French telecoms firm Orange said Friday that its decision to withdraw its brand from the Israeli market was a purely business decision, insisting: "We love Israel".
The company's chairman and chief executive Stephane Richard said an international campaign to boycott Israel in response to its decades-old occupation of the Palestinian territories had played no part in the decision.
"This has nothing to do with Israel, we love Israel, we are in Israel, in the enterprise market, we invest money in innovation in Israel, we are a friend of Israel, so this has absolutely nothing to do with any kind of political debate, in which I don’t want to be," Richard told Israel's Yediot Aharonot newspaper.
"It is a purely commercial point regarding the use of our brand by the company (Partner Communications) under a licence agreement, we don’t want to do that," he said.
"I was not aware there is a kind of international campaign regarding this. I am very sorry about that."
Richard had triggered an uproar on Wednesday when he told reporters in Cairo he was ready to "withdraw from Israel" as soon as "tomorrow morning... but without exposing Orange to huge risks" and potential compensation claims from Partner.
His remarks touched a raw nerve in Israel which is growing increasingly concerned about its international image.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the French government, which partly owns Orange, to disavow Richard's "miserable remarks."
Richard's Cairo comments followed the publication last month of a report accusing Orange of indirectly supporting Israeli settlements in the occupied territories through its relationship with Partner.
The report by five mainly French NGOs and two trade unions, urged Orange to cut business ties and publicly declare its desire to avoid contributing to the economic viability of the settlements, which are regarded as illegal under international law.