Royal slams Israel-Nazi comparison

French presidential candidate sickened by Hizbullah official's comments.

regev goldwasser 298  (photo credit: Channel 10)
regev goldwasser 298
(photo credit: Channel 10)
French presidential candidate Segolene Royal, visiting the Middle East on Saturday, condemned comments by a Lebanese Hizbullah legislator who compared Israel's former occupation of south Lebanon to the Nazi occupation of France. A meeting with Lebanese lawmakers Friday posed several potential pitfalls for Royal, whose comments and reactions were being carefully scrutinized back home. Hizbullah legislator Ali Ammar took the microphone and compared Israel's 1982-2000 occupation of south Lebanon to the occupation of France by the Nazis during World War II. "The Nazism that spilled our blood and usurped our independence and sovereignty was no less wrong than the Nazism that occupied France," Ammar said, in comments translated from Arabic into French for reporters covering Royal's trip. Royal had no immediate reaction to the comments on Friday, surprising some observers. She condemned them a day later, explaining that neither she nor the French ambassador to Lebanon had heard them at the time. She called the comments "unacceptable, abominable and hateful," and said she "would have left the room" if she had heard them. Royal and her entourage had a different translator than the one provided for journalists. The Socialist candidate was visiting Lebanon at the invitation of former President Amin Gemayel, father of Pierre Gemayel, the industry minister who was assassinated. On Friday, Royal called Friday for the release of kidnapped IDF reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. The July capture of the two soldiers by Hizbullah triggered the 34-day war between Israel and Lebanon's Hizbullah. "The liberation of the two soldiers is absolutely vital," Royal told reporters at a news conference. She said she might bring the subject up in meetings later Friday with Hizbullah officials, though "perhaps not publicly." The news conference followed Royal's visit with French forces in southern Lebanon on the second day of her Middle East tour aimed at showing voters back home that she can represent France in the international arena. Her visit coincided with a massive demonstration of flag-waving Hizbullah supporters in the capital. The peaceful but noisy protest was called to try to force the resignation of Western-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, who was holed up in his office ringed by hundreds of police and combat troops. Royal, a former family and environment minister, said an international conference on Lebanon, a former French protectorate, should be organized quickly. "We see here on the ground that if political initiatives are not taken to stabilize the situation, then economic aide won't be effective," the Socialist Party's presidential candidate said. A donor's conference is also to be held in Paris in January to raise funds for reconstruction following the summer war between Israel and Hizbullah. Royal spoke after meeting with the head of the UN peacekeepers in Lebanon, Maj. -Gen. Alain Pellegrini, at their headquarters in the southern coastal town of Naqoura and visiting the French contingent nearby. She also said she would ask Israel to end overflights of Lebanese territory, "in the interests of Israel and the interests of Lebanon," when she travels to Israel on Sunday. Israel has said the flights are vital intelligence-gathering missions. The French contingent of UN forces monitoring the cease-fire between Israel and Hizbullah came near to firing on Israeli planes that were in attack position on one occasion. Royal is also to visit the Palestinian territories, where President Mahmoud Abbas' efforts to forge a unity government with Hamas have deadlocked. She will travel to the Gaza Strip to meet with Abbas and also will meet in Israel with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Speaking at Friday's news conference, Royal said she has not ruled out meeting with Hamas lawmakers. "I will look at the propositions that I receive, and if they're from democratically elected (Hamas) officials, I'll see," she said, adding that her agenda for the coming days was still being finalized. Observers consider Royal's trip risky because of her limited foreign policy experience, but her performance so far has been smooth. She is likely to face off with France's savvy interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, in the April 2007 presidential vote. Royal dismissed calls for her to leave Beirut because of the mounting tensions, which threatened to bring Beirut to a halt.