French foreign minister Kouchner visits Bethlehem

The creation of a viable Palestinian state is in Israel's interest, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said during a tour of the biblical town of Bethlehem on Saturday. Kouchner urged tourists from around the world to visit Jesus' traditional birthplace, as part of efforts to revive the battered Palestinian economy. In December, France co-hosted a pledging conference in which international donors promised to pay $7.7 billion (€5.3 billion) in aid to the Palestinians over three years. In Bethlehem, Kouchner met with the mayor, visited a peace center and toured a French hospital. Later Saturday, he was to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, followed by talks Sunday with Israeli officials. Kouchner said he started his visit in Bethlehem because it is a symbol of peace and hope. "I know that the population all around is suffering .... but I hope we will get a better day," he said. "I hope that here in Bethlehem, tourists from all over the world will come back to see the Church of the Nativity."