Maas begins visit to Israel: Talks on Gaza conflict | Free press


Berlin (dpa) – Ten days after the start of the latest Gaza conflict, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas wants to pay a short visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories to explore how the international community can contribute to a ceasefire.

The SPD politician landed at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on Thursday. Shortly before his arrival, after more than eight hours of silence at Israeli sites on the border with the Gaza Strip, missile alarms went off again.

Militant forces had previously fired a missile at Israel from the Palestinian Mediterranean area, where Hamas rules, around 1 a.m. local time. In Beerscheva people were called to go to shelters. After that it remained silent for a long time. The Israeli army again attacked Hamas targets that night. Parts of the widespread tunnel system in the Gaza Strip were bombed again. Tens of thousands have already fled their homes because of the massive attacks.

International efforts to achieve a ceasefire in the newly ignited conflict have recently intensified. A high-ranking Hamas member did not rule out an early ceasefire. The group’s lead member, also classified by the EU as a terrorist organization, Mussa Abu Marsuk, told Arab television channel Al-Majadin that he expected a truce in a day or two. But it should only apply to the Gaza Strip, not the West Bank or Israel itself. Israeli media also said the guns could be silenced within a day or two.

During his trip, Maas wants to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Gabi Aschkenasi, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and President Reuven Rivlin. In the Palestinian Territories, a meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas was on the agenda.

Together with Ashkenazi, Maas also wants to visit a building in Petach Tikwa, a city in the east of Tel Aviv, which was hit by a missile last week. Massive rocket attacks by Palestinian militants began on May 10. According to the Israeli military, they have fired about 4,070 missiles so far. Israel responded to the shelling with massive attacks in the Gaza Strip.

For example, parts of Hamas’s extensive tunnel system were repeatedly bombed. The military has released a video of the underground facility. According to the armed forces, the Islamists had built the tunnel system over the years. It is hundreds of kilometers long and is used, among other things, to transport hunters, ammunition and food within the Gaza Strip, sometimes by vehicles.

Maas had said before his departure that his main concern was to show solidarity with those who fear for their lives day and night or mourn their loved ones. “Germany supports our friendship with Israel, which must defend itself against Hamas rocket terror,” said the SPD politician. “Even in difficult times, we could always count on our humanitarian support for the Palestinians.”

American pressure is likely to be decisive to end the violence. The White House announced on Wednesday that US President Joe Biden had told Netanyahu in a phone call that he expected a “significant de-escalation … towards a ceasefire” later that day. However, Netanyahu then announced on Twitter, “I am determined to continue this operation until it reaches its destination.”