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Paris Says Use of French-made Helicopters in Beirut Raid Was Factor in Embargo

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France indicated today that use of helicopters it had provided to Israel in the Dec. 28 reprisal raid against Beirut International Airport was a factor in President de Gaulle’s decision to slap an embargo on shipments of war materiel to Israel. Thirteen commercial aircraft were destroyed in the attack. No lives were taken.

Information Minister Joel Le Theule made this statement following a two-hour Cabinet meeting today under Gen. de Gaulle’s chairmanship, and also told the press that, contrary to rumors, Paris had no intention of breaking diplomatic relations with Jerusalem. He also said France would not refund the $100 million Israel paid for jet fighters and other military equipment. “We are not using the material ordered by Israel for other purposes. One does not have to reimburse for material placed under embargo,” he asserted. The French Government expressed apparent indifference today to the barrage of criticism of the embargo leveled against it by France’s press and politicians. He commented, “It has been noted that the Israeli lobby has been active and has tried to influence circles close to the information media.”

Top-level Gaullist sources said that Gen. de Gaulle had ordered the embargo without consulting his Cabinet or Parliament and that Cabinet ministers first heard about it by Israeli radio. They said the embargo orders were sent to customs officials with instructions to block all shipments of materiel to Israel. Affected are an estimated $30 million earmarked for Israel in 1969.

M. Le Theule said that “to say French politics has been hostile to Israel for a long time is incorrect.” He noted that France had sold it 50 Mirage V jet fighters, ordered in 1966, for defensive purposes, adding that they had become a “symbol of aggression” in the Six-Day War and thus were embargoed in 1967. The Minister said France imposed the latest embargo because it wants permanent peace in the Middle East. “This can only be founded upon the application of the unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution (of Nov. 22, 1967)–that is to say the evacuation of conquered territories, establishment of frontiers that would be certain and recognizable, freedom of navigation for all, and a statute for refugees,” he said. M. Le Theule said the UN measure would “bring to Israel recognition, guarantees, and freedom of navigation.” He said that the French Government supports a memorandum presented last week by the Kremlin but not made public which calls for the Big Four–United States, Russia, France and Britain–to cooperate to bring about a lasting solution to the Mideast conflict.

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Opposition to Gen. de Gaulle’s decision mounted today in Jewish and non-Jewish circles. The Emergency Committee for Israel, established at the time of the Six-Day War, met and decided to send a delegation headed by 1968 Nobel peace prize winner Prof. Rene Cassin and Grand Rabbi Jacob Kaplan to meet with Prime Minister Maurice Couve de Murville and voice its dissatisfaction. A public meeting organized by the International League Against anti-Semitism will be held. A Gaullist deputy, Achille Fould, has called for an emergency session of the National Assembly’s Commission for Foreign Affairs to discuss the Government’s decision and ask Foreign Minister Michel Debre to explain it. Leaders of the center parties have attacked the decision. Former French Premier Georges Bidault called the embargo “against the interests of peace.” The conservative newspaper Figaro said the embargo has generated a “backlash” and was disproportionate to the Beirut attack. The center newspaper Le Parisien Libre saw a Paris-Jerusalem diplomatic rupture coming. The conservative Aurore said France cannot be considered a mediator between Israel and the Arabs. The independent Le Monde called French reaction to the Israeli raid as “imprudent and provocative as the raid itself.”

(The New York Times in an editorial today condemned the embargo as a manifestly “uneven handed” policy and “twisted diplomacy” which eliminated France from a constructive role in solving the Middle East crisis. The majority of the West German press was also critical. One paper said Gen. de Gaulle’s word “is not worth any more than his franc.” A major newspaper, the Sueddeutsch Zeitung of Munich said “de Gaulle has clearly taken the side of the Arabs.”)

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