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French president marks World War I centenary

Monday - 8/4/2014, 3:52am  ET

The hands of French President Francois Hollande, right, and German President Joachim Gauck are clasped together, as they symbolically lay the first stone of a building dedicated to the first world war, during the first stone ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, at the National Monument of Hartmannswillerkop, in Wattwiller, eastern France, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014. On this day 100-years ago, in 1914, Germany declared war on France, at the beginning of the first global war, which centred on Europe and resulted in over nine million combatants being killed. (AP Photo/Christophe Karaba, Pool)

THOMAS ADAMSON
Associated Press

PARIS (AP) -- French President Francois Hollande commemorated the 100th anniversary of World War I on Sunday with an appeal to players in the Gaza conflict to put animosities aside -- just as France and Germany have done.

In an impassioned speech in Vieil Armand in Alsace, Hollande paid homage to those who lost their lives after Germany declared war on France on Aug. 3, 1914. But he recalled that former enemies France and Germany put aside their differences to pave the way for peace -- and that others do the same.

"The history of France and Germany shows that will can always triumph over fatalism and the people who were regarded as hereditary enemies can, in a few years, reconciliate," he said.

He called on the world to take the lasting nature of Franco-German relations as a lesson in peacemaking. He said world powers should seek to impose a cease-fire in Gaza, "to stop the suffering of the civilian population."

German President Joachim Gauck joined the French leader for the ceremony-- the first time Germany's head of state has attended.

Soldiers bitterly contested Vieil Armand -- known in German as Hartmannswillerkopf -- because the summit offered a commanding view of the Rhine Valley. Armies at the time deemed its capture as strategically important and some 30,000 died in fighting.

The cemetery contains the remains of 12,000 unidentified soldiers.

Hollande also put in place a foundation stone for a museum on the site that will open in in 2017.


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