Middle East trip: Steinmeier in Israel: “Our solidarity applies”

Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has pledged Germany's unwavering support to Israel, which is being attacked by the terrorist organization Hamas.

Middle East trip: Steinmeier in Israel: “Our solidarity applies”

Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has pledged Germany's unwavering support to Israel, which is being attacked by the terrorist organization Hamas. “Our solidarity with Israel applies,” he said on Sunday in Jerusalem at a press conference with Israeli President Izchak Herzog. "It is not just with Israel as a victim of terror. Our solidarity also applies to Israel that is defending itself, that is fighting against an existential threat."

Steinmeier said this sentence in view of the criticism of Israel's conduct of the war in the Gaza Strip, which has already cost thousands of civilian victims. It is necessary to protect the civilians in the Gaza Strip and provide them with the essentials of life. “International humanitarian law requires this.” That's why it's good that the agreed fire breaks are now being used for this purpose.

However, the Federal President emphasized Israel's right to self-defense. The country has never been so deeply wounded as it was on October 7th and is fighting for its existence. "Israel has every right to defend itself and secure its existence," said Steinmeier. "The terrorist organization Hamas must never achieve its declared goal, namely the annihilation of Israel."

Islamist terrorists from the Gaza Strip entered Israel on October 7th and killed more than 1,200 people there. Around 240 hostages were kidnapped, including several Germans. Israel responded with massive airstrikes, a blockade of the Gaza Strip and began a ground offensive in late October.

Herzog called Steinmeier a “true friend.” Both have known each other for many years. "Your visit is an expression of the solid alliance between our countries," said Herzog, who described Hamas as a "beast" and "monster." He thanked Steinmeier and the federal government for their "clear stance" on Israel's right to defend itself - in contrast to the leaders of other EU countries who showed a "double standard" and "hypocrisy" towards Israel.

Steinmeier's visit seems as if he wanted to send a small sign of normality in these abnormal times. He is not the first high-ranking German politician to come to Israel since the Hamas attack on October 7th. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) has already been there, and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) has already been there three times. Unlike them, however, Steinmeier does not engage in crisis diplomacy, does not come rushing in in the morning and fly away again in the evening, but stays overnight and hangs on for a second day. It almost looks like a normal official visit, especially since his wife Elke Büdenbender is also accompanying him.

But the first item on the program on Sunday afternoon showed that times are anything but normal. Steinmeier met with relatives of hostages in Jerusalem. He already knew some of them from their visit to Berlin. One of the unusual circumstances of this visit is that Steinmeier explained the reasons for his trip in a video message almost 24 hours before departure. And that is also extraordinary: The number 1 in the state came to Israel with the number 2 - Bundestag President Bärbel Bas (SPD) - which can be seen as a special sign of solidarity.

Steinmeier is clearly trying to show in his program that he sees the suffering of the Palestinian population. This Monday, after a visit to a kibbutz and a conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he also wants to visit the Auguste Viktoria Hospital in East Jerusalem. Almost 100 Palestinian patients are being treated there and are now unable to return to their relatives.

The trip will take the Federal President to Oman on Tuesday and to Qatar on Wednesday, where he wants to speak with Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Qatar has close contacts with Hamas and plays an important role as a mediator, for example in the release of the hostages kidnapped to Gaza.

Steinmeier said in his video message that he wanted to talk in Qatar about how the negotiations could now continue. "The way to end the fight will and can only be through the release of the hostages. All of the hostages!" The Israeli president made a similar statement on Sunday: "As a state and as a people, we want to ensure that all abductees, down to the last one, return to us."

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