German minister calls for truce before Mideast visit
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle will travel to the Middle East on Monday for talks aimed at encouraging a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza militants, his spokesman said.
Westerwelle will meet his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman in Jerusalem late Monday before seeing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday.
Later Tuesday he will visit Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah, the spokesman, Andreas Peschke, said.
"Everything must be done to bring about a de-escalation of the situation and create the conditions for a ceasefire," Peschke told a regular government news briefing.
He said Berlin was looking to Egypt and the Arab League in particular to help ease tensions and foster a truce.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert reiterated her "great concern" about the latest flare-up, which she conveyed in telephone talks at the weekend with Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
"In this region, the Middle East, all bloodshed, every escalation of violence makes the situation more unstable and more dangerous," he said.
He stressed that Berlin blamed attacks on Israel by Gaza militants for sparking the spiral of violence.
"The constant barrage of rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip is the cause of the latest escalation," Seibert said.
"The bombardment cannot be justified by anything including the difficult situation in the Gaza Strip. Israel has the duty and the right to protect itself from this bombardment with appropriate measures."
He added that Berlin sympathised with the "long-suffering" civilians on both sides of the conflict.
As fighting raged for a sixth day Monday, ceasefire efforts gathered steam, with senior Hamas officials in Cairo saying Egyptian-led talks on Sunday with Israel were "positive" but now focused on the need to guarantee the terms of any truce.
Meanwhile the Gaza death toll surpassed 90 in the worst violence in the region in four years. Three Israelis have been killed and more than 50 injured by rocket fire since Wednesday.
© 2012 AFP