Sharon finds few supporters in Europe

PARIS, JULY 6. The Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Ariel Sharon described himself as ``a militant for peace'' on his 26-hour European tour aimed at drumming up support for his Government's policy of killing Palestinians wanted for attacks against Israelis.

Mr. Sharon brushed aside criticism of these policies and asked France and Germany ``to exert massive pressure on Arafat'' to make him fight terrorism.

He said he had come to Europe ``to present clearly and categorically the position of the Israeli Government''. Instead of the approval he was hoping for, Mr. Sharon came in for reproof, both from the French public and from the President, Mr. Jacques Chirac.

Over a thousand persons demonstrated in Paris, shouting slogans like ``Sharon Assassin'', while Mr. Chirac told the Israeli leader to tone down his attacks against the PLO leader, Mr. Yasser Arafat. In the past weeks, Mr. Sharon has described the leader of the Palestinian Authority as ``a pathological liar and murder'' and compared him to Osama Bin Laden, the exiled Saudi billionaire accused of being an Islamic terrorist.

Ms. Catherine Colonna, Mr. Chirac's spokesperson said Mr. Chirac had told Mr. Sharon to tone down his attacks against Mr. Arafat. ``Weakening the President of the Palestinian Authority would be counter-productive and risks reducing his control of the situation still further,'' she said.

But Mr. Sharon responded to the French President's exhortations with a spirited defence of his Government's policy of targeting militants saying Israel had a right to defend itself and could not turn a blind eye to planned attacks. ``If he is not taking steps then Israel is unfortunately forced to take action. We can't tie our hands until the attack has taken place,'' he said.

Mr. Chirac also told Mr. Sharon that both Palestinians and Israelis should make ``the maximum effort'' to implement the Mitchell Committee proposals in order to re-start the stalled peace talks.

The blueprint for peace, proposed by a committee headed by the former U.S. Senator, Mr. George Mitchell, calls for an end to violence, a cooling off period followed by confidence- building moves and finally, a return to peace negotiations. The Palestinian Authority Cabinet on Thursday called on Israel to implement the Mitchell proposals within a short timeframe as a package, including a settlement freeze.

It also said in a statement that it ``rejects all the Israeli practices of continued violence, terrorism and assassinations against the Palestinian people.'' At least 475 Palestinians, 121 Israelis and 13 Israeli Arabs have been killed in nine months of violence.

The CIA Director, Mr. George Tenet proposed a ceasefire plan on June 13, based on the Mitchell report. Since its inception, Mr. Tenet's ceasefire plan has been strained by a fresh wave of violence in which at least 16 Palestinians and 10 Israelis have been killed. The truce was intended to end the recent bloodshed in which more than 600 people have been killed and pave the way for a renewal of peace negotiations which deadlocked shortly before the Palestinian uprising erupted last September.

Mr. Sharon said he would welcome a larger role for Europe in the West Asia peace process if the Europeans could ``take a balanced position like Germany or Britain''. Israel enjoys more support in these two countries than in France which is generally viewed as being more favourable to the Palestinians.

Mr. Sharon carefully avoided a visit to Belgium during his first European tour as Prime Minister. An investigating judge there has opened an enquiry into his role in the massacre of Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla in Lebanon in 1982.