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Israeli Foreign Minister Visits Germany, Defends Security Fence

A day after the UN passed a resolution calling on Israel to stop the construction of a security fence, Israel's foreign minister made his first visit to Germany and defended his country's right to security.

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Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom places a stone on a grave in Berlin's Jewish quarter.

Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom began a three-day visit to Germany Wednesday with the official purpose of drawing attention to and condemning the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world. But as Israeli government officials vowed to press-on with efforts to build a controversial security fence in Palestinian territory despite a day-old UN resolution -- sponsored by the European Union -- calling on Israel to cease and desist, rising tensions in the Middle East overshadowed Shalom's visit.

Speaking during a visit to a former concentration camp north of Berlin, the Israeli foreign minister defended his government's hardened stance, stating that, "It is our right to defend our land and our citizens, a right no one can take away from us."

Making the rounds in Berlin

The foreign minister began his visit to Germany's capitol on Wednesday by meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder -- details of their conversation were not released to the press. He then travelled to a former concentration camp in Sachsenhausen, just north of Berlin.

Laying flowers on the grounds where thousands of Jews were killed by the Nazis, Shalom used the opportunity to warn about the growing threat of anti-Semitism in Europe and the Arab world. "Today, less than 60 years after the Holocaust, we are witnesses to a re-sprouting of anti-Semitism in Europe. This sprays its poison not just against its traditional goal, Jews, but the new anti-Semitism is also directed against Israel," he told the crowd.

Attacks against Jews have been on the rise in Germany. Last month, police uncovered a plot by several far-right groups to bomb a Jewish sight in Munich.

Later Wednesday night, Shalom met with the German foreign minister Joschka Fischer, but the two discussed more than the problems of anti-Semitism and touched on the mounting crisis in the Middle East. They discussed the EU's role in dealing with Iran, and Germany's role as intermediary in an upcoming hostage exchange between Israel and Hezbollah militants.

The future of Middle East peace hangs in the balance and all must work towards that goal. A spokesman for Fischer reiterated the German position: "The implementation of the 'Road Map' is without an alternative."

Defiant Israel builds fence, despite UN demands

Shalom arrived in Germany a day after the UN General Assembly passed a tough new resolution calling on Israel to stop the construction of a controversial security fence, which is located within Palestinian territory.

The resolution was sponsored by the European Union, and all 15 members, including Germany, voted to support it in the General Assembly. The vote passed with 144 in favor and 4 against, including the United States and Israel. (Twelve countries abstained.)

The EU agreed to sponsor the resolution after an earlier version proposed by Arab governments was toned down. The compromise text calls on Israel to "stop and reverse the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory," which it says is "in contradiction to relevant provisions of international law." The Arab government's resolution proposed turning the matter over to the International Court of Justice to issue an advisory opinion, which the EU member states objected to.

Despite the UN's censure, Israeli officials, the foreign minister included, say their government won't reverse course. Shalom made this position known during his visit to Berlin, and back home, Israel's deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, stated the same thing more explicitly. "The fence will continue being built and we will go on taking care of the security of Israel's citizens," Olmert told Israel Radio.

How can Israel continue to go against the will of the majority of the international community, including the will of the EU? "Israel can and will ignore the latest UN resolution for one simple reason: Israel can be sure of the USA's support," Avi Primor, the former Israeli ambassador to Germany told Deutsche Welle. He added that, as the situation worsens, in his opinion the majority of the Israelis are also against the security fence.

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