German foreign minister due in Middle East Monday

13th July 2014, Comments 0 comments

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will fly to the Middle East this week, his office said, amid an escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

"I can confirm that Foreign Minister Steinmeier will travel in the Middle East tomorrow and the day after," a ministry spokeswoman told AFP amid intensifying diplomatic efforts to halt the bloodshed.

She declined to provide further details.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza in a telephone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, saying their was "no justification" for such attacks.

Her spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters Friday that the current escalation could only be calmed if Hamas stopped rocket attacks against Israeli cities.

"We underline Israel's right to defend itself against these attacks while maintaining proportionality," he said.

"It is crucial that further escalation be prevented and deaths and injuries among civilians on both sides must be avoided."

Steinmeier was to discuss an international push for a ceasefire in Gaza with US Secretary of State John Kerry and his British and French counterparts in Vienna Sunday.

Meanwhile Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, who holds the EU's rotating presidency and is seen as a possible candidate for European Union foreign policy chief, is also headed to the region, Rome said.

Her ministry said Mogherini would be in Israel and the Palestinian territories from Tuesday to Thursday and in Egypt, a traditional mediator in the Middle East conflict, from Friday to Saturday.

An EU summit on Wednesday is expected to decide on nominations to the EU's leadership following European Parliament elections.

Israel stepped up its campaign in Gaza Sunday, warning Palestinians in the north to flee after marines mounted a ground attack.

The Palestinian death toll from a punishing six-day Israeli air campaign hit 165, following the bloodiest day yet in which 56 people were killed.

© 2014 AFP

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