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Macron and Netanyahu remember Nazi-era roundup of Jews in Paris

The French and Israeli leaders have taken part in a commemoration of the "Vel d'Hiv" roundup of more than 13,000 Jews in 1942. French President Macron denounced his country's role in sending them to their death.

The leaders of France and Israel have paid homage to the Jewish victims of a mass deportation to Nazi concentration camps 75 years ago.

On July 16-17 1942, French police under the Vichy regime - a puppet government of Nazi Germany - launched "Operation Spring Breeze," which led to the roundup of more than 13,000 Jews in Paris. They were held in a cycling arena, the Velodrome d'Hiver, or the Vel d'Hiv for short.

They were kept in cramped conditions with little food or water before being sent to concentration camps. Fewer than 100 survived the war.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu marked the anniversary with a ceremony at the arena on Sunday.

Paris Gedenken Razzia vom Vel d'Hiv (Getty Images/AFP/K. Zihnioglu)

Macron called French responsibility "a stark truth"

The president denounced his country's collaboration in the Holocaust, and lashed out at right-wing nationalists who still downplay the French role in the deaths of tens of thousands of Jews.

"It was indeed France that organized this," he said, adding that "not a single German" was directly involved, but only French police collaborating with the Nazis.

Controversial presence

But the presence of the Israeli leader infuriated some.

The Union of French Jews for Peace (UJFP) described the decision to invite Netanyahu as "shocking" and "unacceptable".

And former French ambassador to Israel, Elie Barnavi said, "The presence of Netanyahu makes me a little uneasy."

"This story has nothing to do with Israel," he added.

Elie Barnavi (DW/B. Riegert)

Barnavi: "This story has nothing to do with Israel"

Netanyahu's visit comes just after a surge of violence in Israel, where a gun attack by three Arab Israelis in Jerusalem's Old City Friday left two Israeli police officers and the attackers dead.

Macron defended his decision to invite the controversial Israeli leader, calling it a "natural gesture."

Read more: Israel reopens Temple Mount after deadly assault

Macron presses for peace

But in an interview Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper, he insisted he was "not trying to confuse the subject of the commemoration and Franco-Israeli relations." But he nonetheless used the occasion to press Netanyahu over the stalled peace process with the Palestinians.

"I call for a resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in the framework of the search for a solution of two states, Israel and Palestine, living in recognized, secure borders with Jerusalem as the capital," Macron told reporters, with Netanyahu at his side.

"We share the same desire for a peaceful Middle East," Netanyahu added, but refused to make any specific commitments on a potential presumption of peace negotiations.

Earlier this month, Macron hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Elysee Palace.

He used the opportunity to reiterate both France's support for a two-state solution to end the Middle East conflict, and its opposition to Israel's building of settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.

It remains unclear, however, whether Macron will follow the more interventionist approach taken by his predecessor Francois Hollande, whose efforts to mobilize the international community on the question infuriated Israel.

Stalled peace talks

Talks between the Israelis and Palestinians have been on ice since a failed US mediation effort in the spring of 2014.

Since then the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has simmered on, with the occasional surge of violence such as Friday's killings.

"France and Europe have to get to grips with the question," former ambassador Barnavi said.

US President Donald Trump (Reuters/G. Fuentes)

Trump has an enigmatic view of the Middle East conflict

"There is perhaps an opportunity, given the state the White House is in at the moment, and the 'plans' of Donald Trump, which are still pretty vague and mysterious," he added.

Trump seemed to back away from Washington's longstanding commitment to a two-state solution, but he called on both sides to make compromises during a visit to the region in May.

So far he hasn't offered specifics on how he would resolve the decades-old conflict.

bik/tj (AP, AFP)

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