Barak Ravid
September 30, 2009 - 12:00am

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally agreed Tuesday to a request by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to rebuild a Gaza hospital damaged during Operation Cast Lead.

Netanyahu told Sarkozy by phone Tuesday that he had decided to approve the project as a humanitarian gesture. The premier also said he wished to accommodate Paris due to the "strident stance that France has taken on Iran's nuclear program."

Sarkozy made the request during Netanyahu's visit to Paris earlier this year. The hospital in question is Al-Quds Hospital, which is managed by the Red Crescent Society in Gaza.

Sarkozy added that the initiative is a joint venture between France and Qatar, the wealthy Gulf sheikhdom that broke off relations with Israel during the Gaza war.

The prime minister told Sarkozy earlier this year that Israel would consult with the defense establishment on the matter, yet in practice nothing materialized.

Last week, Netanyahu and Sarkozy met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly opening session in New York. A source in the prime minister's bureau said that Sarkozy raised the issue again during the meeting. Netanyahu, in turn, promised to update the French leader within a number of days.

Upon his return to Israel, Netanyahu instructed defense officials to make the necessary preparations to allow for the hospital's reconstruction.

Yesterday, Sarkozy called Netanyahu, who gave the go-ahead for the project.

"We have decided to allow the rebuilding of the hospital," Netanyahu told Sarkozy. "I am doing this as a humanitarian gesture and in light of the great friendship between us."

Officials in both the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry had proposed that Israel condition its acquiescence to the initiative on a gesture from Qatar.

Netanyahu, however, rejected these ideas, insisting that the move was a bilateral gesture toward France.


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