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German foreign minister in Israel

Timothy Jones with dpa, Reuters
April 24, 2017

Germany's foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel has arrived in Israel, where he joined in events marking Holocaust Remembrance Day. Gabriel is also due to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials during his trip.

Israel Holocaust Gedenktag Yad Vashem
Image: Reuters/A. Cohen

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel layed a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, as his visit to Israel happened to coincide with the country's official Holocaust Remembrance Day. Two minutes' silence were held in Jerusalem while sirens blared out across the city on the day dedicated to commemorating the 6 million Jews systematically killed by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II.

Israel Holocaust Gedenktag Schweigeminute
Cars across Israel stood still for two minutes to mark Holocaust Remembrance DayImage: Reuters/N. Elias

After his visit to Yad Vashem, Gabriel proceded to the grave of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews by employing them in his factories, located in then-occupied Poland and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

Gabriel has described the now friendly ties between Germany and Israel as "a gift that we can only accept with gratitude and humility in awareness of the break with civilization that was the Shoah," using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust. Gabriel himself has a close relationship with Israel, having traveled there often since his youth.

Warning of violence

Foreign Minister Gabriel arrived in Israel on April 24 chiely to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Nethanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as well as other key officials to discuss the stalled Middle East peace process. Earlier, in the Jordanian capital, Amman, Gabriel warned of the danger of a fresh eruption of violence in the Middle East if the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians was not restarted.

Jordanien Außenminister Gabriel in Amman
Gabriel is on a three-day visit to the Middle East - his first as foreign ministerImage: picture-alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka

"Waiting too long will open up a new field of play to the terror organizations of this world," he said. "If we neglect this conflict, it could cause a new series of violence in the region of a kind we have not yet seen in the past few years."

He said that the conflict should retake its place at the focus of international politics, with Germany obliged to take an "active role" in resolving the situation.

However, he also highlighted the decisive role played by the United States, whose policy on the issue under the new administration of President Donald Trump still remains unclear.

Gabriel also called on Europe to play a greater role in resolving the long-running civil conflict in Syria, rather than leaving negotiations up to the United States and Russia.

Peace process in tatters

Peace efforts in the region have been stalemated for several years. Former US Secretary of State John Kerry made intensive attempts to advance the so-called "two-state solution," in which the Palestinians would be given their own autonomous state alongside Israel, but talks broke down in 2014.

West Bank | Bau neuer Häuser in der territorial umstrittenen Shiloh Siedlung
Israeli settlements are one hurdle to peaceImage: picture-alliance/newscom/D. Hill

Since then, Netanyahu's plans to accelerate settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and a law passed in February to retroactively legalize thousands of homes built on privately held Palestinian land, have helped inflame the already tense situation in the region.

Some reports suggest that these Israeli actions led to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cancelling a summit with Netanyahu that was due to take place in Jerusalem in May.