German president visits West Bank | News | DW | 31.05.2012
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German president visits West Bank

German President Joachim Gauck arrived in the West Bank on the last day of a tour that included Israel. The issue of Israeli settlement building was expected to come up once again.

President Joachim Gauck and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met in Ramallah with a view to breathing life back into the Middle East peace discussions.

Among the topics on the agenda - as well as at later talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad - was the issue of Israeli settlement building in occupied parts of the West Bank.

Palestinian leaders have repeatedly said that an end to Israeli construction on occupied land is essential if the process is to be restarted.

The German president controversially raised the issue on Wednesday during talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There, Gauck expressed unease with Israel's building policy, calling upon Israel to give a sign that it might compromise and agree to stop settlement building.

Gauck and his partner Daniela Schadt talk to a large group of girls at the school

Gauck is traveling with his partner Daniela Schadt

Israel says that its policy should only come up for discussion once new peace talks get underway, as part of a permanent peace accord for the area.

The visit comes on a day when Israel handed over the remains of 80 Palestinian "enemy combatants" to West Bank authorities in Ramallah, in what it called a “goodwill gesture.” Another 11 bodies were transferred to the Gaza Strip.

Gauck began his trip to the West Bank with a visit to a school for girls in the village of Burin that was built with German funding.

In the evening, Gauck was set to attend a reception with church representatives in Jerusalem, before heading back to Germany.

Meanwhile, on Thursday evening in Leipzig, Germany and Israel's national soccer teams square off in a friendly match.

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