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The European Union will not hesitate to toughen the sanctions on Iran unless it fulfills
its undertakings, French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told Haaretz yesterday, before arriving on a two-day visit in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Asked about the tension between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Alliot-Marie said France and Israel disagree on the West Bank settlements. Sarkozy is a friend of Netanyahu's, but friends should be able to talk openly and sincerely, she said.

France no longer sees Syria as a negative factor. According to Alliot-Marie, quite the opposite is true. "[Syria] is an extremely important player that can and should fill a constructive role to advance peace and stability in the region."

Speaking about Hezbollah's threats in Lebanon, she said there is no contradiction between the efforts to ensure international law is kept and to ensure stability in Lebanon. "We are fighting to punish [Rafik] Hariri's murderers and stop the escalation," she said.

While in Jerusalem, Michele Alliot-Marie met the parents of Gilad Shalit, the soldier who has been held captive in Gaza since 2006.

"Gilad Shalit has been held hostage for over four years. His complete isolation and preventing any sign of life from him is completely inhumane. We demand his immediate release," she said.

Shalit is a French citizen, and France "is using all its ties in the region to advance his
release," she said.

France's role in freeing Shalit is secondary because Israel and Hamas chose the German mediator to negotiate the soldier's release following to his success in dealing with Hezbollah, she said. Due to the issue's sensitivity, Alliot-Marie chose not to comment on the talks and the reports about a new deal being negotiated.