Jerusalem, Jan 12: France asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to participate in the weekend march against terrorism in Paris because his presence could divert attention to the Middle East conflict, Israeli newspapers reported Monday.
Citing French presidency sources, the Yediot Aharonot daily reported that the diplomatic row began Saturday after Netanyahu sought to take part in Sunday's march to protest the Islamist terrorist incidents last week.
But the French president's office asked Netanyahu to stay away from the demonstration, citing security reasons.
The prime minister announced later Saturday that he would not take part because it was impossible to coordinate security measures in such a short time.
However, he regretted his decision after discovering that political rivals, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennet, would participate.
Netanyahu did not want to miss the opportunity to be photographed with other international leaders and be with the French Jewish community as Israel prepares campaigning for the early elections to be held March 17, the press reports said.
Although he did not attend the demonstration, Netanyahu did attend a ceremony at a central Paris synagogue along with French President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls, where the crowd chanted "Bibi, Bibi", Netanyahu's nickname.
In an image that circulated in social media, Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were standing in the front row, separated from Hollande by Malian President Ibtahim Boubacar Kieta and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
According to the newspaper, Hollande was outraged by Netanyahu's appeal to French Jews to immigrate to Israel, seen by France as a criticism for its ability and willingness to protect the minority.