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Germany

Germany calls for an end to Israel's Gaza blockade

The German parliament has united in denouncing Israel's handling of Gaza, calling for an end to the blockade.

Palestinian and Lebanese flags waving over fishing boats during a demonstration in support of Lebanese ships planned to sail from Lebanon to Israel in an attempt to break the Israeli blockade on the Gaza strip, in the sea off the Gaza City shore

German MPs say ending the blockade would benefit Israel

Germany's government called Friday for an immediate end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip after a unanimous vote in the country's Bundestag parliament condemning Israel's handling of the territory.

"We have repeatedly made it clear that Israel has to enable access to the Gaza Strip on humanitarian grounds and for the sake of reconstruction," said Ulrich Wilhelm, the German government's spokesman.

The Bundestag on Friday declared Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip counterproductive and a violation of international law. The high level of multipartisan agreement seen in the Bundestag is rare, and the decision is expected to strengthen Chancellor Angela Merkel's government in its policy regarding the blockade.

While the German government's call met with some annoyance in Israel, in Berlin Free Democrat Member of Parliament Rainer Stinner welcomed the Bundestag's unity. "What we are experiencing here is, in fact, a new quality of joint foreign and security policy," he stated.

"This means that, for the first time in our discussions of the Middle East, all the house's factions share the same petition," Left Party MP Wolfgang Gehrcke said, adding, "The Middle East will surely take note of this signal as well."

Signs of political parties in front of the Reichstag building

Bundestag fractions were in a rare state of agreement on the blockade

A question of motivation

Gehrcke stressed that the decision was neither anti-Israel nor anti-Palestine, but that his concerns were with both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. Stinner agreed with that statement, adding that the Bundestag's denouncement of the blockade was in no way a departure from the Bundestag's consensus on its historically-based special relationship with Israel.

The only damper on Friday's unity within the parliament came from Thomas Silberhorn of Bavaria's Christian Social Union party. Silberhorn levied accusations that the Left Party supporting Islamist forces by supporting the participation of two members of parliament in the Gaza aid flotilla intercepted by Israeli defence forces at the end of May.

"They were less concerned for the people in Gaza than about confrontation with Israel," he alleged.

An "inhumane blockade"

Other than Silberhorn's statements, the Gaza flotilla and Israel's deadly mission against the ships played no further role in the debate. In fact, there was not much of a debate at all; for once, an air of agreement in condemning the blockade dominated. The Bundestag referred to the blockade as "inhumane" and "counterproductive," according to Green Party MP Kerstin Mueller, who said that the blockade only benefits the islamist terrorist organization Hamas.

"It's absurd that this blockade becomes a de facto UN blockade," Mueller said, explaining that, in accordance with the blockade, the UN refused to buy building materials for new schools. With present schools overfilled, Mueller said, that leaves 40,000 children with no school to attend. "These children then go to Hamas's Koran Schools," she said, adding that the blockade could thus only fuel radical Islamism.

An end to isolation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will not apologize for raiding aid ships

Social Democrat MP Rolf Muetzenich supports Mueller's criticism of the blockade. Muetzenich has called for not only humanitarian aid to Gaza, but support to help the region rebuild itself economically and end its political isolation.

"We must promote the message among the Palestinian fractions that only a government of national unity will allow for an ongoing and just peace solution in Palestine - and then be of benefit to Israel," he said.

All Bundestag fractions agreed that an end to the blockade would indeed benefit Israel. "Yet we must not lose sight of Israel's security needs," said Christian Democrat Philipp Missfelder - to the applause of the house.

Author: Bettina Marx /dl (dpa)

Editor: Andreas Illmer

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