Sharon, who is due to visit France next week, sparked a row with Paris last year when he urged French Jews to emigrate to escape "the wildest anti-semitism".

France put on hold an invitation for him to visit Paris until he explained the remark.

 

Sharon did so, and the two countries' foreign ministers have exchanged visits, but Sharon again criticised Paris in February for balking at a US-backed proposal to declare Lebanon's Hizb Allah, now represented in the Lebanese parliament, a "terrorist" group.

 

In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, Sharon praised France's efforts to tackle anti-Semitism.

 

"I have a lot of respect for France's action against anti-semitism," he said in an advance copy of the interview, due to run in Le Figaro's Friday edition.


Attracting Jews

 

"The French government's action on this issue should serve as a model and an example for other European governments."

 

But Sharon said Israel still wanted French Jews to emigrate to the Jewish state.

"Our policy is to grow as much as possible the Jewish population in Israel. However, one obviously cannot ignore the fact that there is anti-Semitism in France"

Ariel Sharon,
Israeli prime minister

He is due to meet French President Jacques Chirac next Wednesday.

 

"Our objective is to attract one million Jews to Israel in the next 15 years, from the whole world, including France," he said.

 

"Our policy is to grow as much as possible the Jewish population in Israel. However, one obviously cannot ignore the fact that there is anti-Semitism in France," he added.


Anti-Semitic attacks


France
is home to Western Europe's biggest Jewish and Muslim communities.

"One also cannot ignore the fact that 10% of the French population is of Muslim origin."

 

The country has been troubled by anti-semitic attacks although a police investigation earlier this year found that French far-right groups were increasingly targeting Muslims rather than Jews.

 

Israel and France have had a history of rocky ties since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War that led France, formerly Israel's chief arms supplier, to impose an arms embargo until the 1980s.