Orange CEO in telecom row invited to Israel: govt official

Jerusalem (AFP) - Israel has invited the head of France's Orange to come and explain the group's plan to review its business ties with an Israeli telecoms firm, following a boycott row, a government official said Sunday.

"The government of Israel invited him to visit Israel," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Orange chief Stephane Richard told AFP on Saturday that he "sincerely regrets" the furore sparked last week when he said in Cairo that Orange wanted to end its brand-licensing agreement with Partner, Israel's second-largest mobile operator.

The Orange boss's comments touched a raw nerve in Israel, which is growing increasingly concerned about global boycott efforts and the impact on its image abroad.

A furious Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly slammed the move by France's part state-owned telecoms group as "miserable."

Partner has called Richard's apologies and explanations "nothing more than a smokescreen, the object of which is to manipulate public opinion in Israel and the world."

The Israeli official said on Sunday that Richard was reportedly seeking a meeting with Israel's ambassador to France, Yossi Gal, but the envoy had been instructed to decline.

"The ambassador in Paris has been instructed not to have a meeting there in Paris and to tell the CEO that he would be a welcome visitor in Israel," he said.

Partner's statement slammed what it called Richard's "offensive statements, apologies and vague and evasive expressions."

"Partner wishes to stress that we have to this day received no official communication (from Orange)," it added.

"We demand direct dialogue with... Stephane Richard who, until now, has avoided speaking directly with (this) company; inexplicable conduct in our eyes."