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Visiting Ban, German FM Westerwelle seeking truce
By GREER FAY CASHMAN
21/11/2012
Ban recalled having come to the region in 2009 for much the same reason, and was pained that he had to do so again.
 
Amid rumors and denials of an impending cease-fire, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met on Tuesday night with President Shimon Peres following meetings with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.

Earlier in the day, the secretary-general met with senior Egyptian officials in Cairo and on Wednesday he plans to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

In welcoming Ban, Peres said that there was no comparison between the Gazans and the Israelis. While the Gazans target the civilian population, especially children, Israel is very careful in trying not to hit civilians. Unfortunately this was not always possible, the president said, because Hamas hides behind the civilian population in Gaza.

Hamas has no reason to attack Israel, Peres continued.

Whereas it could once be said that Gaza was occupied, this is no longer the case, Peres stated. “We left Gaza willingly and totally [in 2005]. We wish them a quiet and happy life. We don’t want to see anyone suffer. But to suffer or not to suffer is in their hands, not in ours.”

Ban recalled having come to the region in 2009 for much the same reason, and was pained that he had to do so again.

He cautioned Israel against sending ground forces into the Gaza Strip, saying this would only escalate the situation and would cause greater tragedy for both Israelis and Palestinians .

“Now is the time for diplomacy and for both sides to reach an immediate cease-fire and work toward peace and stability in the region,” he said, declaring his willingness to help in any way possible.

On Tuesday morning, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in a meeting with Peres confirmed his frequently voiced stance that Israel has the right to defend itself.

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“The German people and the German government stand by Israel’s right to protect and defend itself against missile attacks from Gaza; and Hamas has the responsibility to stop the missile attacks against Israel,” he said.

Westerwelle also said something that he has already stated several times, but believes needs repeating over and over again. There are people who are under the misconception that the missile attacks started in recent days, he said, noting that they have been going on not just for days, weeks and months – but for years.

In response to Peres’s warm words of appreciation for the position taken by Germany and the international community in general, Westerwelle said that he was not only speaking as a representative of Germany in reference to Israel’s right to selfdefense, but for the whole of the European Union. The foreign ministers of the EU met in Brussels this week, he said, and issued a clear statement against missile attacks.

“We’re all interested in a cessation of hostilities,” he said, adding that everyone was working toward a de-escalation of the situation and doing their utmost toward achieving a cease-fire – with one precondition: the cessation of the firing of rockets against Israel.

It is the hope of the international community, Westerwelle added, that Cairo will use its influence to work on a cease-fire. He was optimistic that “Egypt knows its responsibility not only in the interests of the region but in our interests as well.”

Peres repeated several times during the meeting how much Israel appreciates Germany’s efforts “to bring an end to an unacceptable attack on civilian life and to renew hope for peace in the Middle East.”

The president denied that there was any siege on Gaza other than a blockade against arms and aggressive weapons such as missiles smuggled from Iran.

Food, building materials and other products can pass through freely, he said.
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