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Fischer's Middle East Visit Continues

Building upon German-Israeli ties was a main topic as German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer continued his three-day visit to Israel.

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Talking about the Middle East: Joschka Fischer (right) and Israel's Silvan Shalom.

"A gesture of friendship and solidarity in difficult times" is how Foreign Minister Fischer summed up the purpose of his trip on his second day in Israel. On Tuesday he met with Israeli President Moshe Katsav and visited the Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem, and had planned visits with other members of the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

Sharon

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

On Monday, Fischer met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (photo), where talk focused on Israel's wish to improve its diplomatic relations with the European Union. Sharon's government has said it sees its good relationship with Germany as a step toward improving those ties. Israel's relations with other European countries have been strained by the recent wave of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Fischer is the first high-ranking European official to visit Israel since that country's election in January.

Israel's new foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, has expressed a clear desire for improved relations with the EU. In talks with Fischer on Monday, he stressed that conditions for a Middle East peace process would be the end of Palestinian terror attacks, and what he described as Palestinian television's agitation of the populace.

Road map to peace

Fischer and Shalom agreed that the United States must be the deciding force in a successful implementation of the "road map to peace" in the Middle East. Details of the "road map," which contains a series of steps aimed at creating a Palestinian state by 2005, are expected to be made public in the coming weeks. The plan was hammered out by the European Union, the United Nations, the United States and Russia -- a group known as the Middle East Quartet.

Fischer also expects to meet with Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofas and Labor Party opposition leader Avram Mitzna. Fischer and Israeli Justice Minister Yosef "Tommy" Lapid also continued to seek an appropriate venue to meet. The two had scrapped a tete-a-tete planned for early Tuesday after Fischer refused to see Lapid in his offices in the heavily Palestinian area of East Jerusalem. For his part, Lapid claimed the German politician had no right to determine the borders of the Israeli capital.

Meetings are also planned on Wednesday in the autonomous Palestinian territories with Prime Minister Designate Mahmud Abbas, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Parliament President Abu Aba.

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