Germany's top diplomat says Gaza blockade 'unacceptable'
Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip only serves to strengthen extremists, Germany's top diplomat said on Monday, urging Israel to allow exports from the impoverished Palestinian territory.
"It is not acceptable to blockade 1.5 million people in Gaza," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters on a brief visit to the Hamas-run coastal strip.
The blockade "strengthens the radicals and weakens the moderates, and the opposite is what we should be doing," he said of the measure, which has been eased by Israel over the summer months but still remains in place.
"It is important that imports and exports are allowed through again," he said, stressing that this was also the position of the European Union.
Westerwelle's comments came during a visit to the Sheikh Ajleen sewage treatment plant, just south of Gaza City, which is being redeveloped with a 20-million-euro (28-million-dollar) grant from German development bank KfW.
"Gaza must not and will not be forgotten by us," he said, pledging Berlin would continue to help the territory, whose core infrastructure was devastated during a deadly 22-day Israeli offensive in December 2008-January 2009.
"Infrastructure is crucial for development. Water, sewage treatment, education and training are the key components of our aid," Westerwelle said.
During talks on Sunday with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman, Westerwelle said better economic development would strengthen Palestinian moderates, and even laid out "concrete proposals" on exports from Gaza.
But the Israeli minister said he was not convinced there was any international demand for exports from Gaza.
Speaking in Gaza on Monday, Westerwelle, who is also Germany's vice chancellor, warned of the consequences of a failure to resolve the impasse in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks which ground to a halt six weeks ago.
"We are standing on a dangerous precipice," he said, without elaborating. Germany and the European Union were continuing to press both sides to resolve their differences.
Israel first imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip in June 2006 after militants there kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and tightened it a year later when Hamas seized power in the territory, ousting its moderate rivals.
Shalit is still being held by militants in Gaza, and Germany is believed to have a key role in brokering negotiations between Israel and Hamas to secure the 24-year-old's release in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.
"We are doing what we can to help on this issue," Westerwelle said, without giving details.
The Gaza blockade was imposed to try to force Hamas to free Shalit, but the policy was eased in July after Israel bowed to a wave of global pressure over its raid on a fleet of aid ships that killed nine Turkish activists.
Although Israel now allows in everything except arms or goods which could be used to manufacture weapons or build fortifications, it still maintains a tight naval blockade and does not allow exports from Gaza.
© 2010 AFP