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France: Israel's ban on Palestinians could escalate violence
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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — France's foreign minister warned Friday that Israel's ban on Palestinians entering its territory following the "abominable" attack on a popular cafe in Tel Aviv could escalate violence instead of focus attention on the need to pursue peace.

Jean-Marc Ayrault reiterated France's condemnation of the attack, which killed four civilians, but was critical of Israel's response.

Israel imposed travel restrictions Thursday on Palestinians and sent hundreds of additional troops into the West Bank. On Friday, the military announced it was closing the West Bank until the end of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot on Sunday due to security concerns, except for "humanitarian and medical" cases and for Palestinians to worship at al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

"The decision by the Israeli authorities today to revoke tens of thousands of entry permits could stoke tensions which could lead to a risk of escalation," Ayrault told a small group of reporters. "We must be careful about anything that could stoke tensions."

France currently holds the presidency of the U.N. Security Council and Ayrault was at U.N. headquarters to preside over an open council debate on the protection of civilians in peacekeeping operations.

Last Friday, France hosted an international meeting in Paris attended by more than two dozen Western and Arab countries to try to come up with a new strategy for Mideast peace and revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations which have been all but dead for two years. The participants welcomed the "prospect" of a conference with both parties later this year.

"There must be a political initiative from the international community to create conditions to appease the situation and return to negotiations," Ayrault said.

"We need intense mobilization to start something new to force the parties, who will all be invited in the second part of the year to our conference, to talk to one another again," he said.

Ayrault told a news conference later he plans to set up working groups to see what incentives can be offered to the Israelis and Palestinians to come back to the negotiating table.

Earlier, he urged a halt to Israeli settlement building which he called a "serious provocation."

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast War. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but nearly 600,000 Israeli settlers remain in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The Palestinians claim all three areas for a future state, a position that has wide global support. Similarly, the international community widely sees Israeli settlements as illegal or illegitimate, and a major obstacle to peace.