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French presidential candidate Segolene Royal calls for release of 2 Israeli soldiers

French presidential candidate Segolene Royal calls for release of 2 Israeli soldiers

French presidential candidate Segolene Royal, wading into the Lebanese crisis during a Middle East tour, called Friday for the release of two kidnapped Israeli soldiers.
The July capture of the two soldiers by the militant group Hezbollah triggered the 34-day war between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah.
"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 Hezbollah 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 Hezbollah 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 Hezbollah.
Royal spoke after meeting with the head of the U.N. 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 U.N. forces monitoring the cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah 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 more moderate unity government with the militant Hamas have deadlocked.
She is to travel to the Gaza Strip to meet with Abbas and is also to meet in Israel with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Speaking at Friday's press 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.
Royal was visiting Lebanon at the invitation of former President Amin Gemayel, father of Pierre Gemayel, the industry minister who was assassinated last week.


Updated : 2021-10-22 16:56 GMT+08:00