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Germany's Baerbock demands humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza

March 24, 2024

The German foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, has repeated calls for an "immediate humanitarian cease-fire" in Gaza. Her demands come as she starts a diplomatic tour of Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Annalena Baerbock meets Riyad al-Maliki in Berlin
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (right) met Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki in FebruaryImage: Halil Sagirkaya/Anadolu/picture alliance

Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has issued renewed demands for an "immediate humanitarian cease-fire" between Israel and Hamas and warned of the threat of famine facing civilians in "the hell of Gaza" as she set off on a diplomatic tour of the region on Sunday afternoon.

"Every single day, desperate mothers and fathers are grasping for whatever small meal they can for their children, and every single day too many are going empty-handed," she said before departing for Cairo, Egypt, after which she which also visit Israel and the Palestinian territories for talks.

"Only an immediate humanitarian cease-fire leading to a permanent armistice can keep hopes of peace alive — for Palestinians and for Israelis," she said.

Baerbock's latest visit to the Middle East comes amid mounting international criticism of Israel's military operation in Gaza, which has reduced much of the enclave to rubble and caused unprecedented death, displacement and hunger.

The war was launched in retaliation for the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, in which around 1,200 Israelis were killed and around 250 more taken hostage, but it has since resulted in over 32,200 Palestinian deaths, according to figures updated by the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza on Sunday.

Israel must allow aid, Hamas must lay down weapons — Baerbock

"The people are in need of everything," said Baerbock, adding in reference to the restrictions on aid deliveries to Gaza imposed by Israel: "Every crate of food, medicine, water purification tablets and medical equipment counts. Every crate lying waiting on a truck outside the Gaza fence is one too many."

International efforts to deliver aid to Gaza by sea and air have had minor success, but UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said during a visit to the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing on Sunday that the only really effective route is by road, which "requires Israel removing the remaining obstacles and chokepoints to relief."

Baerbock agreed, saying "air drops and maritime corridors are not a sustainable solution" and calling on the Israeli government to "open the border crossings for much more aid."

Nevertheless, she also accused Hamas militants of "continuing to hide perfidiously" behind civilians and called on the group, which is designated a terrorist organization by international actors including the US and the EU, to lay down its weapons.

Guterres says 'it is time to silence the guns'

Israeli military operations continue

This week, fighting has continued to rage around the sprawling Al-Shifa hospital complex in Gaza City, which has become a refuge for patients and displaced people but where Israel says Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants have been hiding out.

On Sunday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced further operations in the city of Khan Younis, where the Palestinian Red Crescent reported that Israeli troops had surrounded two hospitals.

Meanwhile, despite calls for restraint from Western allies including the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to insist on a ground offensive into the southern city of Rafah, the final refuge for over one million Palestinians who have fled the Israeli advance in other parts of the territory.

On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron told Netanyahu than any forced transfer of people from Rafah would amount to a "a war crime."

The French president also urged Israel to immediately open all Gaza crossings during a phone call with Netanyahu, according to the Elysee Palace.

Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that "a major ground operation [in Rafah] would mean more civilian deaths and would worsen the humanitarian crisis" but Netanyahu said that Israel could proceed with or without US approval.

Baerbock said Germany "stands by [its] responsibility for Israel's security," and reiterated that the events of October 7 must never be repeated, but insisted that "this goal cannot only be achieved militarily."

In her talks in region over the coming says, Baerbock said she will advocate for a two-state solution involving a reformed Palestinian autonomous authority "as the first step towards a democratic Palestinian state" in which people can live "in security and dignity."

Latest talks in Qatar end

Meanwhile, Israeli intelligence chief David Barnea and his US counterpart left Doha, Qatar, late on Saturday night following negotiations on a temporary truce and hostage exchange which "focused on details and a ratio for the exchange of hostages and prisoners," a source told the AFP news agency.

Israel believes that about 130 of the hostages seized by Hamas on October 7 are still in Gaza, including 33 presumed dead.

A Hamas official with knowledge of the talks said on Saturday that "there is a deep divergence in positions in the negotiations." The group insists that any cease-fire must entail an eventual permament withdrawl of Israeli troops from Gaza, which Israel continues to reject.

US Middle East diplomacy faces setbacks in Israel and at UN

mf/dj (AFP, Reuters)