Orange CEO Stephane Richard
Orange CEO Stephane RichardReuters

Israel has invited the head of France's Orange group to visit and explain his plan to review ties with a local telecoms firm that has stirred a boycott row, a government official said Sunday, according to AFP.

The telecoms giant reacted swiftly, saying it welcomed the invitation and that its CEO, Stephane Richard, would travel to the Jewish state "soon", as both sides seek to defuse the row.

The trip would allow Richard to "clarify the misunderstanding", a spokesman for the company told AFP.

He said the CEO would "provide all the necessary precisions to put an end to this controversy and reaffirm the group's commitment".

The government's invitation was the latest stage in the controversy which erupted Wednesday when Richard said in Cairo he wished he could dump" Israel "tomorrow". A day later the French company announced it has decided to halt its operations in Israel and end its partnership with the Israeli company Partner, which franchises Orange's name in Israel.

Richard, later appeared to have a change of heart, when he spoke with Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom to apologize for his remarks and clarify that he “loves Israel.

His remarks were dismissed by Partner, Israel's second largest mobile operator which has a license to use the Orange brand.

Denouncing his remarks as a "smokescreen," the firm on Saturday demanded Richard explain himself in person.

Richard was understood to be seeking a meeting with Yossi Gal, Israel's ambassador to France, but the envoy had been instructed to decline, an Israeli government official told AFP.

"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, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In a statement to AFP, Richard on Saturday reiterated that "Orange does not support any form of boycott, in Israel or anywhere else in the world." He also stressed that the Orange Group was "in Israel to stay."