PARIS (Jul. 11)
France yesterday announced its readiness to supply a contingent of troops to separate Israeli and Palestinian forces in Beirut and ensure the evacuation of the PLO leaders and their men. Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson said last night that the French soldiers would be sent to Beirut only if “all the participants in the fighting” would request their presence.
The dispatch of French troops to Lebanon is part of France’s efforts to obtain a recognized political role for the PLO and enable it to withdraw from Lebanon “with its dignity intact.” The French are convinced that should the PLO suffer a political defeat after its military rout and should it be publicly humiliated, some of its more radical elements would revert to terrorist activities and also undermine the moderate Arab regimes.
President Francois Mitterrand made this point clear during his recent visit to Budapest. Speaking to the Hungarian capital last Friday, Mitterrand said the PLO “still has an important political role to play.”
French sources said today Mitterrand has been “grossly misquoted” after several correspondents there said he had compared the Israeli presence in Lebanon to the worst Nazi massacre carried out in war-time occupied France. The official sources said Mitterrand was asked by the correspondent of the Palestinian news agency, Wafa, what he thought about the “Oradour carried out by the Israelis in Lebanon.” Mitterrand answered, according to these sources,” I did not condone Oradour in France and I would not condone it in Lebanon.”
On June 10, 1944 the retreating German armies massed all the inhabitants of the tiny hamlet of Oradour-sur-Glane in the southwest of France in the local church and set it afire. Those who tried to escape were mowed down by machineguns. All the inhabitants who were on the spot on that day, 614 people, were killed by the Germans, reportedly in retaliation for an attack by local resistance fighters.
Several local Jewish organizations as well as a number of opposition Deputies have already protested against the alleged comparison between Lebanon and Oradour. The Israeli Ambassador has also been instructed to lodge a stiff protest with the French Foreign Ministry. Officials here say the President’s words were quoted out of context and that he never intended to compare the two.