Ashton, Merkel say Israel has right to defend itself

German chancellor blames Hamas for escalation; EU foreign affairs chief calls for stop to rocket attacks.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton 390 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Kimmo Mantyla/Lehtikuva)
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton 390 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Kimmo Mantyla/Lehtikuva)
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both issued strong statements in support of Israel’s right to defend itself on Friday.
Ashton added that she hoped Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil’s visit to Gaza on Friday morning would calm the situation.
“The rocket attacks by Hamas and other factions in Gaza, which began this current crisis are totally unacceptable for any government and must stop,” she said.
“Israel has the right to protect its population from these kind of attacks. I urge Israel to ensure that its response is proportionate,” she said.
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“I am deeply concerned at the escalating violence in Israel and the Gaza Strip and deplore the loss of civilian lives on both sides,” Ashton said.
Ashton added that she had spoken with leaders in the region, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and the office of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, as to how best to de-escalate the situation.
“In my discussions, I made the point that we must move forward in finding a solution to the Middle East conflict so that million of people in the region can finally live in peace and security,” she said.
A German government spokesman said on Friday that Merkel is "very worried" about an escalation of violence in the Middle East and calls on Hamas to immediately stop shooting rockets from Gaza into Israel."
"Hamas in Gaza is responsible for the outbreak of violence," spokesman Georg Streiter told a news conference. "There is no justification for the shooting of rockets at Israel, which has led to massive suffering of the civilian population.
"The Chancellor urges those responsible in the Gaza Strip to immediately stop firing on Israel. At the same time she calls on the Egyptian government to use its influence on Hamas to limit the violence and bring it to an end."
Streiter said the Israeli government had the "right and obligation" to protect its population.
UN human rights chief urges Hamas, Israel to step back from brink
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay denounced Israel's aerial attacks on Gaza as well as rockets fired by Hamas into southern Israel and called on both sides on Friday to step back from the brink.
"She's appalled that once again civilians are losing their lives... She urges both sides to pull back from an increasingly dangerous confrontation," her spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing in Geneva.
"The High Commissioner has repeatedly and unequivocally condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel and is deeply concerned by the recent major upsurge in the number of rocket attacks and that they are now being aimed at a major city such as Tel Aviv," he said.
"She is also extremely concerned by the sharp increase in aerial attacks by Israeli forces on the heavily populated Gaza Strip in the past two days," he said.