German foreign minister visits Gaza Strip | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 08.11.2010
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German foreign minister visits Gaza Strip

Concluding a two-day trip to the Middle East, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle visits a UN-run girls' school in Gaza, the first visit by a German government official to the territory in four years.

Guido Westerwelle in girls' school classroom

The girls' school is run by the United Nations

Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Monday became the first member of the German government to visit the Gaza Strip since 2006.

Westerwelle toured a girls' school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians in the Near East (UNWRA), accompanied by the organization's head Filippo Grandi.

He was also due to view a water treatment plant financed by German development aid and to meet with Gazan business representatives to discuss the economic problems in the enclave, which Israel has been blockading since the summer of 2006.

During the visit, Germany's top diplomat called for an abolition of the blockade, commenting that it was "unacceptable to block 1.5 million people."

Westerwelle said his visit was "a clear sign that we have not and cannot forget the people of Gaza."

The visit concludes a two-day trip to the Middle East, meant to promote the renewal of stalled peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The visit also included meetings with Palestinian officials, his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman and the family of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Hamas and is still being held.

Easing of blockade 'necessary'

Silhouette of Israeli soldier along Gaza border

Israel keeps a strict blockade of the Gaza Strip

Israel's blockade on Gaza began after Shalit's capture, and was seriously tightened after Hamas militants seized full control of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007.

The blockade has intensified the region's dependence on foreign aid, and Israel has denied several foreign diplomats - including German Development Minister Dirk Niebel - entry to the area.

In a news conference with Lieberman in Jerusalem on Sunday, Westerwelle called on Israel to allow exports from the territory, which he found "necessary."

"The blockade strengthens radicals and weakens the moderates," he added Monday, going on to call for the release of Shalit. "Let the young man go home after the years of captivity," he said.

Westerwelle was not scheduled to meet with any Hamas officials, in accordance with a Western boycott on the group for its refusal to renounce violence, honor prior Israeli-Palestinian agreements and recognize Israeli's right to exist.

Author: Andrew Bowen (dpa, AFP)
Editor: Rob Turner

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