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Germany

Fischer Starts Middle East Tour

German foreign minister Joschka Fischer has embarked on a five-day, five-nation tour of the Middle East focusing on the Israeli and the Palestinian conflict and economic and political modernization in the region.

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Does Sharon really want to see Fischer again?

Fischer started his trip in Lebanon on Friday and will then travel to Syria, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories and finally Egypt. The German foreign minister has long been perceived as an honest broker by the protagonists in the Middle East conflict, but his role is becoming more difficult in view of ongoing tensions in the region.

"Two states side by side -- I see no other positive alternative," Fischer said referring to Israel and an eventual sovereign Palestine after landing in Beirut.

His five-day visit to the Middle East comes at a time of ongoing violence in the region. The peace process has been stalled for several months. In addition, the minister’s reputation in Israel has been tarnished since Germany backed a United Nations General Assembly resolution in July condemning Israel’s border fence in the West Bank.

All European Union member states endorsed the resolution which stated that the parts of 600-kilometer barrier built on Palestinian territory were illegal and should be torn down. In the eyes of the German government, tensions have also been fuelled by Jerusalem’s decision to expand existing Jewish settlements in the West Bank. German foreign ministry spokesman Jens Plötner said Fischer will be trying to unblock the peace process, known as road map, against all odds.

"The situation in the region is critical. We are seeing the continuation of violence and of terror. And one of the aims of the visit of Mr Fischer is to explore possibilities of kick-starting the roadmap process and getting the road map back on track by determining with the parties in the region how best to do this," Plötner said.

"So this exploratory aspect is indeed an important one of the visit, but the road map is the game in town and is the basis of our policy."

A freeze on settlements

Germany has repeatedly urged Israel to freeze its settlement activities while calling on the Palestinian authority to initiate security reforms in clear steps that underline their commitment to the road map. But after the vote in the General Assembly in July Israel accused EU countries of being biased and threatened freeze Europe out of the peace process.

On Thursday, Israel’s foreign minister Silvan Shalom appealed to Europe not to support yet another United Nations resolution sponsored by the Palestinians which called for sanctions against Israel over its West Bank barrier. Spokesman Plötner said the German government has yet to make up its mind.

"Germany believes – as the European Union as a whole does – that Israel has the right to defend its citizens against terror and violence. This having been said we believe that the placing of the barrier beyond the green line inside Palestinian territory bears the risk of establishing facts on the ground which will make a peace settlement along the lines of the road map more difficult," he said. "As for the upcoming vote we have to look at it very carefully to see what exact proposal will be tabled."

Palestinians have hinted they will ask the United Nations Security Council in September to consider sanctions or some form of economic punishment against Israel citing anti-apartheid boycotts against South Africa as a precedent. But Foreign Minister Fischer, mindful of his role as a peace broker in the region – is unlikely to support such a drastic move.

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