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Czech FM 'speechless' after seeing 'the destruction, terror'

‘Showing friendship’: European ministers visit in act of solidarity with Israel

German, Czech, and Slovak envoys stress Israel’s right to self-defense as they tour rocket-devastated building in Petah Tikva

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi (C) visit a building that was hit by Hamas rocket fire from Gaza, on May 20, 2021, in Petah Tikva. (Gil COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi (C) visit a building that was hit by Hamas rocket fire from Gaza, on May 20, 2021, in Petah Tikva. (Gil COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

The foreign ministers of Germany, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia visited Israel Thursday in a show of solidarity as fighting continues with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They toured sites hit by rockets from Gaza, met ministers and attended briefings.

“I am speechless after I witnessed the destruction and terror that Israel has experienced,” said Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek after touring a rocket-devastated building in Petah Tikva.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas arrived first and was greeted at Ben Gurion Airport by his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi.

“I would like to thank the German government, which supported Israel from the start of this round of fighting, condemned Hamas terror, and emphasized Israel’s right to defend itself and its civilians,” said Ashkenazi, speaking in Hebrew.

“This round is not like previous rounds,” he said. “The Hamas missile attack on Israel broke out because of a brutal attempt by Hamas to strengthen its political position and to take over the Palestinian agenda and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority.”

Ashkenazi also said that “most of the international community” has stood behind Israel during the fighting.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (C) receives a security briefing in Petah Tikva from Gen. Ori Gordin (L), head of the IDF Home Front Command, along with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (R). (Foreign Ministry)

The German envoy said his visit was meant to show solidarity with Israel.

“Israel has the right to defend itself,” he declared.

Maas added that Germany supported efforts for a ceasefire, and had spoken with the US, Egypt, and others to help end the fighting.

“We are following with concern the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and are aware of Israel’s efforts to send in humanitarian aid to residents of Gaza,” he said.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and visiting EU foreign ministers tour a building that was hit by Hamas rocket fire from Gaza, on May 20, 2021, in Petah Tikva. (Foreign Ministry)

Maas was taken to a security briefing in the central city of Petah Tikva with Gen. Ori Gordin, head of the IDF Home Front Command.

Maas, Gordin, and Ashkenazi then visited a bombed-out building in the city that was hit by a rocket fired from Gaza, accompanied by Kulhanek and Slovakian Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok, who landed later in the afternoon.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi visits a Petah Tikva building hit by Hamas rocket fire with his Czech and Slovak counterparts, May 20, 2021 (Shlomi Amsalem, Foreign Ministry)

“During this time, Israel needs its friends in the world, and we are here to show our strong and enduring friendship,” Kulhanek said. “Israel has the full right to defend its citizens.”

Kulhanek added that he believes that fighting will end quickly, and that Czech tourists would be able to visit Israel again.

“We are true friends,” said Korcok, the Slovakian envoy, “and we came here to show the strength of the friendship between the countries.”

“Hamas fire must stop,” he added. “Israel has the full right to defend itself.”

Ashkenazi thanked his counterparts for the support their countries were demonstrating back home. “The fact that the Israeli flag flies today over the Czech Foreign Ministry building and over the Bratislava municipality building is not to be taken for granted, and it warms the heart,” he said.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tours a Petah Tikva building hit by Hamas rocket fire, along with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and head of the IDF Home Front Command, Ori Gordin, May 20, 2021 (Foreign Ministry)

Unnamed Israeli officials told the Walla news site Thursday that they expect a breakthrough in Gaza ceasefire talks within the coming 24 hours.

Talks are taking place via two channels — Egyptian intelligence services and the United Nations envoy to the Middle East, Tor Wennesland.

There was no comment from the Prime Minister’s Office on the report.

Senior officials told the outlet that Egyptian mediators are leading the discussions and are in direct contact with the leadership of the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, Wennesland traveled to Doha to meet with Hamas leaders who are living there and have some influence on the situation.

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