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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Netanyahu is to call on Italy to restrict ties with IranImage: AP

Netanyahu visit

June 23, 2009

Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has arrived in Italy on his first official trip to Europe, where he is expected to push Rome, and later Paris, to toughen sanctions against Iran.


Netanyahu first met for talks with his Italian counterpart, Silvio Berlusconi, on Tuesday to discuss the situation in the Middle East, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But at their joint press conference, he focused on Iran, praising the courage of Iranian protesters and calling Tehran the "greatest threat to peace" in the region.

Netanyahu said that the protesters were showing courage "in facing bullets in the streets" as Iranian authorities attempt to crack down on the demonstrations against alleged fraud in the recent election that returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.

Berlusconi added that he and Netanyahu were in agreement that Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.

Italy is one of Iran's biggest trade partners in Europe, and Israel has in the past asked Rome to use its economic ties to put pressure on Tehran over its controversial nuclear program.

Netanyahu was expected to ask Italy once again to reconsider its commercial links with the Islamic Republic.

Settlement question

Israeli soldiers sit under a tree as a bulldozer destroys a house in the Jewish settlement of Morag in the southern Gaza Strip
Jewish settlements have been built and bulldozed in GazaImage: AP

On Wednesday, the Israeli premier is slated to meet Italian President Girogio Napolitano before travelling to Paris for talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He will also holds talks with US Middle East envoy George Mitchell.

Netanyahu, who took office after February elections, will not make the journey to European heavyweight Germany during his trip, but told German daily Bild he hoped to visit soon.

In an interview published Monday and Tuesday, he said he planned to accept an invitation from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who he said he greatly admired, adding that she was a truly reliable friend of Israel.

The contentious issue of Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank is also likely to be discussed during Netanyahu's trip, with reports Tuesday the Jewish state has authorized the building of as many as 300 new homes in the region.

The move would flout calls by the international community, in particular the US, for Israel to abandon new settlements in the West Bank in a bid to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Half a million Jews live in settlements and outposts constructed in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem, all territory captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

Editor: Trinity Hartman

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