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German, Czech, Slovakian FMs to visit Israel Thursday amid Gaza fighting

Ashkenazi says trips by top European diplomats are ‘further proof of the broad support and legitimacy Israel has from the nations of the world’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, meets with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on March 26, 2018. Kobi Gideon / GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, meets with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on March 26, 2018. Kobi Gideon / GPO)

The foreign ministers of Germany, Czech Republic and Slovakia will travel to Israel on Thursday, the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday, describing the visits as a show of “sympathy and support” for the Jewish state amid ongoing fighting with the Gaza-based Hamas terror group.

A spokeswoman for German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he will use the trip for talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials on the escalating conflict.

“The political talks will focus on the current escalation in the Middle East and the international efforts to end the violence,” the spokeswoman said.

Maas will meet Israel’s foreign and defense ministers, Gabi Ashkenazi and Benny Gantz, as well as President Reuven Rivlin.

He will also travel to the West Bank city of Ramallah to hold talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek and his Slovakian counterpart Ivan Korcok will also visit Jerusalem for high-level meetings with Israeli officials.

Ashkenazi said in a statement that the visits of the foreign ministers, which come after the Greek foreign minister was in Jerusalem Tuesday, are “further proof of the broad support and legitimacy Israel has from the nations of the world throughout the days of fighting, thanks to the diplomatic efforts led by Israeli ambassadors around the world and Foreign Ministry workers in Jerusalem.”

In the coming week, more foreign ministers are expected to arrive to express sympathy and show their support for Israel,” he added.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was previously the country’s foreign minister, expressed doubts on Wednesday over the impact of Maas’ visit.

“Germany must use its relations in the region,” he said, but pointed out “the Middle East Quartet has been activated and Europe is part of it.”

“I have my doubts as to whether individual nations should make their own mediation efforts,” he added.

Palestinian terror groups in Gaza have fired over 3,000 rockets at Israel since last Monday. Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, have been killed in the rocket fire, and hundreds have been injured.

According to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, at least 219 Palestinians have been killed so far in the nine days of the conflict, including more than 60 children. It was not immediately clear if this ministry tally included all of those killed or if there were Hamas operatives not included in the count.

According to the IDF, more than 120 of those killed were members of Hamas and over 25 were members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as of Monday night.

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