German, US, EU and Israeli ministers in Berlin discuss Jerusalem violence | News | DW | 22.10.2015
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German, US, EU and Israeli ministers in Berlin discuss Jerusalem violence

In Berlin, top diplomats from Germany, the EU and the US have met the Israeli PM to discuss how to end the violence in Jerusalem. Germany called for everything possible to be done to de-escalate the situation.

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Middle East crisis talks in Germany

After meetings involving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, United States Secretary of State John Kerry and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Berlin on Thursday, Steinmeier said both he and Kerry had called on Israelis and Palestinians to do everything possible to de-escalate the situation in Jerusalem.

Violence in Jerusalem in recent weeks was sparked by what Palestinians saw as encroachment on the holy site of Al-Aqsa, also known as the Temple Mount. The site is under the protection of Jordan. It is the third most important mosque in the Muslim world after those of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

Steinmeier said "it must be in Israel's interest, also in the security interests of Israel, to maintain a relationship with Jordan that does not undermine the Jordanian King or his political leadership." But he conceded that it was unrealistic to expect Netanyahu to announce a change of policy while he was in Europe.

Jordan is one of the few countries to have ever made a peace treaty with Israel, which it did in 1994. Jordanian King Abdullah is regarded as a mediator but is under pressure from other Arab states to take a harder line with the Israeli government.

Temple Mount proposals

Kerry said it was important to change the tone of the public discourse between Israel and the Palestinians, and to clarify the status of the Temple Mount. He expressed a "cautious measure of optimism" after four hours of talks with Netanyahu in Berlin about proposals that could help defuse the violence in Israel.

"There may be some things ... in the next couple of days put on the table which would have an impact - I hope," Kerry said. "I don't want to be excessive in stating that, but I am cautiously encouraged." Kerry is due to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah in Jordan's capital, Amman, where he said he planned to raise the proposals.

Netanyahu blamed the violence in Jerusalem on Palestinian President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, "I think it is time for the international community to say clearly to President Abbas to stop spreading lies about Israel," he said. "Lies that Israel wants to change the status quo at the Temple Mount, lies that Israel wants to tear down the Al-Aqsa Mosque, lies that Israel is executing Palestinians. All of that is false."

The Israeli leader came under fire this week for comments he made claiming a former Palestinian leader had inspired Hitler's Holocaust.

Palestinians accuse Israel of attempts to alter the status quo at Al-Aqsa. Jews are currently allowed to visit but not to pray. There has been a growing number of Jewish visitors who Palestinians believe want an increased presence and prayer rights at the holy site.

The talks between German and Israeli ministers should have taken place earlier in October but were postponed due to the violence in Jerusalem.

The "Quartet" of Middle East peace mediators - the EU, Russia, the US and a special envoy of the United Nations - are to meet in Vienna on Friday to urge Israeli and Palestinian leaders to tone down their rhetoric and calm down the situation on the ground.

At a joint news conference with Steinmeier in Berlin on Thursday, Mogherini said: "I can announce here that tomorrow in Vienna we will have a Quartet principals meeting." Mogherini said the group would meet to "coordinate messages, to pass a strong message to the parties to calm down the situation on the ground."

Syria focus

Steinmeier and Kerry also discussed the situation in Syria. Steinmeier said the road to a political situation "depends on whether Washington and Moscow find bridges to each other." Steinmeier said that Russian airstrikes in Syria have created more suffering and caused more refugees to leave.

The German foreign minister said the solution to the Syrian conflict had grown more complex, due to Russia's involvement. A close ally of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, Russia's air force has carried out an extensive campaign of air strikes to target the armed opposition.

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross's Middle East and North Africa operations, Robert Mardini said on Thursday that the airstrikes made it harder to get help to civilians: "Air bombardment makes it more difficult for us to reach some areas," he said. "More use of weapons in any conflict will create additional difficulties in the humanitarian situation."

There were also reports Thursday that three Syrian hospitals had been hit since the Russian airstrikes began on September 30. The latest, at Sarmin hospital in Idlib province, reportedly killed 12 people. "The strike took place on Tuesday night in the town of Sarmin. Among the killed were a physiotherapist, a nurse, and civil defense member," Rami Abdel-Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

US airstrikes in Afghanistan were responsible for the destruction of a hospital in Kunduz, less than two weeks ago.

jm/msh (dpa, Reuters, AFP, AP)

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