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Germany

Fischer Wraps Up Mideast Tour Amid Violence

Overshadowed by two bomb explosions in Israel, German Foreign Minister Fischer ended his five-nation Middle East tour in Egypt on Tuesday.

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Fischer, left, with Egyptian President Mubarak in Alexandria

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer concluded his Middle East tour focusing on the Arab-Israeli conflict and economic and political modernization of the region with a sharp condemnation of terrorism and violence.

Zwölf Tote bei Doppelanschlag auf Busse in Israel

An Israeli police officer clears the area in front of the destroyed bus at the scene of a double-bombing in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba.

Referring to double suicide bomb attacks that ripped through two buses in the southern Israeli town of Beersheba on Tuesday killing at least 12 people, Fischer said that it was clear that "all efforts had to be taken to bring peace and stability in the region." The minister said there had to be an end to terror and violence.

"The killing of innocent people on both sides is not acceptable," he added.

A respected mediator

Earlier Fischer, on the last leg of his five-day, five-nation Middle East visit, held talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Prime Minister Ahmed Nasif in Alexandria, praising Egypt's peace engagement in Gaza. The two sides also discussed ways of reviving the stalled peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Joschka Fischer in Ägypten Treffen mit Ahmed Kureia

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer meets with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, left, at a hotel in Alexandria, Egypt.

In addition, Fischer also met with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia in Alexandria

The German foreign minister, a well-respected mediator in the Middle East, repeated what he said in Jerusalem a day earlier: that the EU wanted Israel's planned pullout in the Gaza strip to be part of a US-backed peace plan and thus take place in coordination with the Palestinians. "Gaza can mean a significant progress for the peace process," Fischer said.

At the same time the minister said the Palestinians also had to cooperate to enable Israel to execute its pullout.

Arab-Israeli conflict the main issue

The ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict has been the dominant theme of Fischer's talks in all five Mideast countries on his itinerary, beginning with Lebanon and on to Syria, Jordan, Israel and finally, Egypt.

Der syrische Präsident Bashar Assad trifft Deutschlands Außenminister Joschka Fischer in Damaskus Spezialbild

Syrian President Bashar Assad meets German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, right, in Damascus on Saturday.

During talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom in Jerusalem on Monday, Fischer made it clear that a pullout in Gaza alone would not suffice, but had to be accompanied by similar steps in the West Bank. "This would lead to a breakthrough, and we in Germany and the EU are ready to engage ourselves," Fischer said.

Fischer in Israel

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, right, with Gernman Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer during their meeting in Jerusalem.

At the same time the minister stressed it was important for Israel to halt construction of West Bank settlements according to terms of the internationally backed "road map" peace plan.

Fischer has also underlined that the European Union remains committed to the road map -- derailed for more than a year by violence on both sides -- as the only way to end the Arab-Israeli conflict. "We have a unified European position and we must move forward on this position because we think the region needs a fair compromise based on a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians," he said.

Sharon brings forward Gaza pullout

On Tuesday Sharon announced that evacuation of all 21 Jewish settlements from Gaza is set for the beginning of next year, advancing the controversial pullout schedule by about eight months.

Under the Gaza plan, four of the 120 settlements in the West Bank -- home to about 240,000 settlers -- would also be moved by next year. But Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon intends to hold on to an arc of larger enclaves there.

Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war. The international community sees Jewish settlements built on those territories as illegal, a view Israel disputes.

European security linked to Mideast's

Fischer's Mideast trip has been largely viewed symbolically as peace and stability deteriorate while infighting and chaos paralyzes the Palestinian Authority and Israel continues to build a security wall in violation of international norms.

But the German foreign minister was also frank and upfront with his Mideast hosts.

He condemned Syrian interference in Lebanon, warned Damascus to improve its human rights record and agree to renouncing weapons of mass destruction, and urged Amman to initiate internal reforms. Even Fischer's message to Sharon that Gaza can only be the beginning of peace is considered a bold move, given that the pullout remains so controversial in Israel.

König Abdullah II von Jordan und Außenminister Joschka Fischer

King Abdullah II of Jordan, right, meets with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, left, in Amman, Jordan on Sunday.

In Jordan on Sunday, Fischer gave a hint of the reasons behind his unflagging efforts in the search for a solution to the Middle East conflict: "When we talk of our security as Europeans, we are talking about the future of our neighbors the Middle East," he said in a press conference. "If things are going badly wrong in the region, it will hurt our interests immediately and our security so it's not that we only have political and moral interests in peace."

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