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German foreign minister visits Gaza, urges end to rockets

Frank-Walter Steinmeier doesn’t meet with Hamas officials, says rehabilitation requires open border crossings

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, center, gestures during a visit to the sea port in Gaza City, June 1, 2015. (AFP/MAHMUD HAMS)
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, center, gestures during a visit to the sea port in Gaza City, June 1, 2015. (AFP/MAHMUD HAMS)

Germany’s foreign minister paid a rare visit Monday to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, calling on Israel to ease a blockade on the territory and urging Hamas to make sure no more rockets are fired into Israel.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier is the latest in a series of Western diplomats to tour Gaza since a 50-day war with Israel last summer. While international donors have pledged billions of dollars in aid, little reconstruction has taken place on the estimated 18,000 homes destroyed in the fighting.

Steinmeier said that more efforts are needed to rebuild and to improve the economy. He said, “This requires the opening of crossing points by Israel.”

But he said it would be difficult to do this without an end to rocket fire. Steinmeier did not meet Hamas officials.

Ending rocket fire from Gaza at southern Israeli towns and cities was one of the main goals of Operation Protective Edge in which the IDF battled against Hamas and other Palestinian militia groups in Gaza during July-August 2014.

On Sunday Steinmeier met with Israeli and Palestinian officials and raised his concerns about the situation in Gaza.

Steinmeier told President Reuven Rivlin that Gaza’s rehabilitation would build confidence between both sides, and added that resumed peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians should focus on Gaza as well as on the West Bank.

“The troubled situation in Gaza demands of us to think about concrete steps to improve daily life there — without which, I am afraid, the situation is escalating,” he said.

Rivlin told him that the country knew full well that Gaza needed rebuilding. “We do not need to be pressured,” he said.

During their meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the German envoy that Israel was seeking to advance “confidence-building measures including the flow of up to 800 trucks a day of construction and humanitarian assistance to Gaza, and we are considering other things.”

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