Israel telecoms firm not satisfied by Orange apologies

Orange will pay up to 90 million euros ($100 million) to regain direct control of the brand, which had been licenced to Partner to use in Israel until 2025 (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

Jerusalem (AFP) - The Israeli telecoms firm at the heart of a controversy involving France's Orange that has caused a diplomatic storm said Saturday it is unhappy with Orange's response to the matter.

Partner, Israel's second largest mobile operator, said Orange chairman Stephane Richard's declared intent to sever the agreement granting Partner use of the Orange name "continue to cause enormous damage to the Orange brand in Israel and hurt Israeli citizens."

And since making the remarks Wednesday in Cairo, Richard has been contrite.

He told Israel's Yediot Aharonot newspaper "we love Israel," and the office of Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said he had received a call on Friday to apologise.

But Partner is unimpressed.

"The recent statements... are nothing more than a smokescreen, the object of which is to manipulate public opinion in Israel and the world," Saturday's statement said, slamming 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)."

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

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

Although the Orange boss said earlier this week the move was not political, his remarks in Cairo came after the publication on May 6 of a report accusing the telecoms giant of indirectly supporting Jewish settlement activity in the occupied West Bank through its relationship with Partner.

The international community regards all Israeli construction on Palestinian land seized during the 1967 Six-Day War as illegal.