German FM says Gaza blockade 'strengthens extremists'

Westerwelle calls closure of strip "unacceptable, must end"; doesn't meet Hamas leadership due to refusal to renounce violence, recognize Israel.

By JPOST.COM STAFF, ASSOCIATED PRESS
November 8, 2010 17:22
2 minute read.
Guido Westerwelle in Gaza

German FM Guido Westerwelle in Gaza 311 AP. (photo credit: AP)

Germany's foreign minister said during a rare visit to Hamas-ruled Gaza that the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of 1.5 million Palestinians living there is unacceptable and must end.

Guido Westerwelle also said after Monday's tour of a UN school and a German-funded sewage treatment plant that the border closure is strengthening extremists at the expense of moderates.

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A senior Hamas official called Westerwelle's decision not to meet with members of the Hamas leadership during his visit to the strip, "insulting," according to DPA.

"It was completely wrong to come to Gaza and not meet with the legal government's representative," Kamal Shrafi stated.

Westerwelle said his decision to not meet with Hamas stemmed from the Gaza leadership's refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

While in Gaza on Monday, Westerwelle called on Hamas to free captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.

He urged the terror group to "finally free this young man, after so many years in captivity."

Westerwelle stressed that Germany views the speedy return of Schalit to his family as the humane step.

His comments came a day after a meeting with the soldier's father, Noam Schalit, as well as President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat in Jerusalem.

During a press conference after their Sunday meeting, Lieberman said that the biggest threat to the Middle East is Iran.

"Not only Iran with its nuclear problem, but Iran through its proxies in its terrorist activity in all our regions. We see Iranian activities through proxies in Lebanon through Hizbullah, in the Palestinian Authority through Hamas, their deep involvement in Iraq, in Yemen, in Somalia and, of course, this threat may be the biggest threat that we are facing as a Western society, as a free society in the modern world," Lieberman told his German counterpart.

He also said that while Israel has a "political dispute" with the Palestinians, it also has "very good cooperation with the Palestinians on the security level and on economy."

Westerwelle referred to Schalit, saying that Germany has an "abolultely clear position" that the soldier be "released very soon."

"We think that our Israeli friends know that they can count on us. And I do not want to comment any further because it is very important that we help the family, that we help this poor young man and that we see him as soon as possible, safe and healthy, back in the arms of his family," the German foreign minister said.


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