Olmert accompanies Merkel to Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial
Merkel signs Yad Vashem guest book, saying 'Germany dedicated to jointly shaping the future.'
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, on the second day of her three-day visit to Israel marking the country's 60th anniversary.
Merkel, accompanied by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and eight ministers from each government, attended a memorial service for the six million Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II.
Signing Yad Vashem's guest book, Merkel pointed to a historic joint Israeli-German cabinet session scheduled for later Monday, when she wrote "In recognition of Germany's responsibility for the Shoah, the German government underlines with the first German-Israeli consultations its determination for a joint shaping of the future."
Merkel, upon arriving in Tel Aviv on Sunday and referring to Germany's past, said Berlin had a "special responsibility" toward Israel.
Olmert, for his part, described Germany, 63 years after the Holocaust, as one of Israel's "strongest allies."
On Tuesday, Merkel will become the first foreign head of government to speak before the Knesset. In the past, the honor has been reserved only for heads of state and monarchs.
Last week, the Knesset House Committee approved Merkel's request to address the Knesset in German, sparking a heated vote that passed seven to two.
The two rightist MKs who voted against the approval, slammed the decision.
"I cannot stand to hear German in the Knesset," NRP-National Union MK Aryeh Eldad said, "my mother and father were murdered in that language."
"They are Amaleks, they are the mother of all Amaleks. The Jews must not return to be doormats," NRP-National Union MK Uri Ariel said.
Merkel said Sunday that this upgrade of ties between Israel and Germany will open a new chapter in relations. During the government meeting, the two sides will sign off on projects in several areas, including environmental protection, science and defense. Merkel began her visit Sunday with a trip to the home of Israel's founding father, David Ben-Gurion, in Sde Boker, an Israeli kibbutz in the southern Negev Desert.
Later, Merkel, a former physicist, was to visit the Weizmann Institute, one of Israel's top scientific research facilities.
Shimon Stein, a former Israeli ambassador to Germany, said the upgrade in ties is unique for Israel. For the first time, Israel will sign an agreement that will institutionalize annual meetings at the prime minister-chancellor level, he said. Germany has similar arrangements with several other countries.
Germany has emerged as one of Israel's staunchest political allies and trading partners in Europe, and Israel has made use of German mediation in winning freedom for captured soldiers.
However, six decades after the end of World War II, a state visit by a German leader is still an emotional event for the Jewish state. Six million Jews perished in the Nazi Holocaust, and about 250,000 elderly survivors live in Israel.
It is Merkel's second visit to Israel since becoming chancellor in 2005. She is not visiting the Palestinian territories, but her government announced last week that it would sponsor a conference in Berlin in coming months to help upgrade the Palestinian security forces and justice system.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said Merkel would soon pay a special visit to the West Bank to discuss German support for the Palestinians. Germany is a major donor to the Palestinian Authority, headed by moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Meanwhile, U.S. Republican presidential candidate John McCain is also expected to visit Yad Vashem on Tuesday.
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