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Sarkozy starts three-day visit in Israel, Palestinian territories
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09:45, June 23, 2008

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived Sunday afternoon at Ben-Gurion International Airport for a three-day visit in the region.

Sarkozy said upon arrival that the creation of an independent Palestinian state is essential to Israel's security. The trip is Sarkozy's first to Israel and the Palestinian territories since he became president in May 2007.

Israeli President Shimon Peres praised his counterpart for visiting Israel during an official welcome ceremony at the airport.

Peres, speaking in Hebrew and French, added that "the cooperation between us has created a cultural and economic foundation. This foundation, inspired by French tradition, has given rise to a growth that realizes the great potential of the human resources embodied in Israeli society."

Sarkozy is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Shimon Peres and opposition head Binyamin Netanyahu, according to Israeli government sources. He will address the Knesset (parliament) and accompany Peres on a helicopter tour of the Dead Sea and the Judea Desert.

The president will also head to the West Bank city of Bethlehem to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

A large group of people, including his wife Carla Bruni, seven French cabinet ministers, 80 business people, 40 leading members of the French Jewish community and approximately 100 journalists, are accompanying Sarkozy on his visit.


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