Orange's Stephane Richard tells Israel of regret over comments

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Stephane Richard (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu (12/06/15)Image source, Israel Prime Minister's Office
Image caption,
Mr Richard said his remarks had been misinterpreted

The head of French telecom giant Orange has said he deeply regrets the controversy following comments he made last week indicating he wanted the company to pull out of Israel.

Orange CEO Stephane Richard went to Jerusalem and met PM Benjamin Netanyahu to "clear up the confusion".

He had earlier said he wanted to end an agreement with an Israeli partner which operates in the occupied West Bank.

The comments were strongly criticised in Israel as supporting a boycott.

"It's no secret that what you said last week was interpreted by many as an attack on Israel," Mr Netanyahu told Mr Richard on Friday.

The prime minister said his government sought "real and secure peace with our neighbours the Palestinians", but that could not be achieved "by boycotts or threats of boycotts".

Reuters and the Times of Israel reported that Mr Netanyahu had instructed the Israeli ambassador to Paris not to accept a request by Mr Richard to meet in France.

Mr Richard said his comments had been taken out of context.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Orange signs were covered by the Israeli flag in several cities in protest at Mr Richard's comments

"I have been profoundly and personally distressed to observe the results of the misunderstanding and the distortion of my recent statements," said Mr Richard.

"I deeply regret the impact resulting from the context and interpretation of those statements."

The CEO had said in a meeting in Cairo last week that he would pull out of Israel "tomorrow morning" if contracts allowed, adding it was important to build trust with Arab countries.

Partner Communications, which has a licence to use the Orange brand name, controls close to 28% of Israel's mobile market.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign movement - that Israel says works to "delegitimise" the state of Israel - had also previously called on Orange to sever its ties with Partner because of work it carries out in settlements.

Israel's settlements in the occupied territories are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

The French government has a 13.45% stake in Orange. Last week French President Francois Hollande said he did not support a boycott of Israel and wanted to improve ties between the two countries.