French President Nicolas Sarkozy is visiting Israel.
Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, flew in Sunday to Tel Aviv for a much-anticipated visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The timing of the visit was chosen to coincide with France’s upcoming new role as head of the European Union and the July 13 summit meeting on a Mediterranean Union project in Paris, a Sarkozy spokesman said.
Sarkozy, who since taking office has vowed to improve Franco-Israeli ties, on Sunday will visit the Yad Vashem memorial with Israeli President Shimon Peres and dine with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The next day Sarkozy will address the Knesset and then meet with the parents of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Shalit is a dual Israeli-French citizen, making his plight of special interest to Paris.
In addition to Israel’s relationship with its neighbors, Sarkozy will discuss with Israeli officials the possible strengthening of E.U. and Israeli bilateral relations, notably on shared environmental interests.
While in the region, Sarkozy, who is seen as wary of upsetting Arab sentiment during his Israel visit, is expected to visit Bethlehem, where he will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and sign an accord to create a Franco-Palestinian industrial zone in the Palestinian Authority.
French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, one of several French ministers accompanying Sarkozy, will place flowers on the tomb of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Bethlehem.
Sarkozy has been outspoken in his support for the Jewish state’s right to exist, but also called for Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be curbed to make way for a Palestinian state.