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France's Macron 'didn't apologise' for scolding Israeli security at Jerusalem church

French President Emmanuel Macron visits Jerusalem's Old City [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 22 January, 2020

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French President Emmanuel Macron engaged in a heated argument with Israeli security on a visit to Jerusalem's Old City.
France clarified early Thursday that President Emmanuael Macron did not offer an "apology" to Israeli security guards after a tense altercation in Jerusalem's Old City, contrary to an Israeli police statement.

"There was no presidential apology to the Israeli security forces," French officials told Haaretz.

The statement refers to the French president's outburst in Jerusalem's Old City, which followed in the footsteps of one of his predecessors, Jacques Chirac.

"St. Anne is a French national domain in Jerusalem. It is the role of France in this city to protect these places. The Israeli security forces wanted to enter it while security was provided by French security.," French officials said.

"The president reacted to an altercation between the Israeli and French security forces at the time of entering St. Anne in order to end it and to recall the rules that apply. He recalled that everything had gone well so far in the visit and that no incident should be created. Everything is in order. Nothing serious."

French President Macron lost his temper with Israeli security forces, shouting at Israeli soldiers to "respect the rules" as he made his way into Church of Saint Anne in Jerusalem's Muslim quarter.

His heated argument with Israeli security broke out when Israeli security forces pushed past the French detail and were first to enter the Church of Saint Anne, which is French state property.

"Everybody knows the rules. I don't like what you did in front of me," an animated Macron loudly told the Israeli personnel, speaking in English, in the crush to enter the building, which remains French territory under international treaties. 

"Go out - outside please!" he added in a raised voice in scenes captured in video footage that quickly spread on social media.

The Roman Catholic church, located at the start of Via Dolorosa in the Old City's Muslim Quarter, has been part of France's territories in the Holy Land since the 1850s.

The rules that have been in place "for centuries", Macron told the Israeli officers, "will not change with me, I can tell you, OK? So everybody, respect the rules".

Macron, speaking later Wednesday about his own incident, said there had been "some nervousness between the security teams and I was trying to put it in order", adding that afterwards he "shook hands warmly" with the Israeli officers.

Israel's Shin Bet domestic security agency said in a statement that "in accordance with the pre-established coordination of security arrangements, a police officer and an officer of the Shin Bet accompanied the French president and his men into the church".

"Upon leaving, the president's team apologised for the incident, the president shook hands with the officers and continued his visit to the Old City, accompanied by the security forces in order to ensure his safety as a high-level visitor to Israel," Shin Bet added.

Macron will on Thursday attend a ceremony to commemorate the liberation 75 years ago of Nazi Germany's Auschwitz death camp in what was then occupied Poland.

Wednesday's tense scenes recalled a 1996 Jerusalem visit by late former president Chirac during which he also lost his cool with Israeli security agents who were pressing him to move on.

Chirac heatedly told them their actions were a "provocation" and angrily asked: "What do you want? Me to go back to my plane and go back to France, is that what you want?"

Chirac was also angered that Israeli officers were present at Saint Anne's Church during his visit. 

France has four territories in Jerusalem. The Church of Saint Anne was built by Crusaders in the 12th century and gifted to France by the Ottoman Empire in 1856.

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