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News Brief


France’s foreign minister is visiting Israel days after admitting his government is having unofficial contacts with Hamas.

Bernard Kouchner held talks Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem before going to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

Olmert’s office said he briefed Kouchner on Israeli peace efforts with Abbas’ administration and Syria. Tthere was no immediate word from Israel about France’s policy toward Hamas.

After French media reported that a former Paris diplomat had met Hamas officials, Kouchner confirmed that the contacts were sanctioned by the Sarkozy government.

But the foreign minister insisted that Paris would continue to formally shun the Palestinian Islamist faction as long as it refuses to recgonize Israel and forswear terrorism.

Israel accidentally scrambled jets to intercept a plane carrying Quartet envoy Tony Blair.

Blair flew to Tel Aviv Wednesday from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik, where he had attended the World Economic Forum.

Israel’s ground control failed to establish contact with the aircraft and, fearing it might have been commandeered by terrorists, sent up two warplanes to intercept it.

The jets were called off when Blair’s pilot made an emergency call to Tel Aviv for clarification.

Israel intercepts incoming aircraft on an almost monthly basis due to concerns that al-Qaida or Hezbollah could try to mount 9/11-style attacks.

A new pilot identification system that Israel is issuing to all airlines that enter its territory should reduce the risk of mistaken interceptions.

Border policemen deployed near Israel’s southern border fired on a group sneaking in from the Egyptian Sinai.

One infiltrator was killed, another wounded and the rest escaped in the incident late Wednesday.

Egyptian officials described the group as drug smugglers rather than African migrants who frequently try to enter Israel on foot in search of work.

Israel, which also fears infiltration by Palestinian terrorists who reach Sinai from the Gaza Strip, has stepped up efforts recently to secure the Egyptian border.

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