German FM Calls on Israel to Lift Gaza Siege

Guido Westerwelle visits Gaza Strip, says blockade of Gaza supports 'extremism' though refuses to meet with Hamas.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called on Israel on Monday to lift its siege of the Gaza Strip, saying the blockade of 1.5 million people was "not acceptable."

"The blockade of Gaza supports extremism and weakens the moderates and we should not forget that Gaza is part of the two state solution and that is what we are working for," he told reporters while on a quick visit to the territory.

Westerwelle - Reuters - Nov. 8, 2010

On Sunday, at a news conference in Jerusalem with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman, the minister had called on Israel to allow exports to leave Gaza, saying such a move was "necessary."

Westerwelle was the first German minister to visit Gaza in nearly four years. He visited a local school, toured a water treatment plant being expanded with German finance, and met with local businessmen.

He did not however meet with any officials from the Islamist Hamas organization, which administers the enclave, and which is subject to a western diplomatic boycott due to its persistent refusal to renounce violence, honor previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, and accept Israel's right to exist.

Hamas, for its part welcomed, Westerwelle's visit, but slammed as "insulting" his refusal to meet with it.

Senior Hamas leader and legislator Kamal Shrafi said it was "completely wrong to come to Gaza and not meet with the legal government's representative."

"We really condemn the refusal of officials and diplomats to hold talks with the Palestinian government, which was legally elected with transparency by the Palestinian people. Every official arriving in Gaza did not meet with anybody here, and this is really insulting," Shrafi said.

Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, but a unity government set up with President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party was dismissed after Hamas militants routed security officials loyal to Abbas and the Palestinian Authority and seized full control of the enclave in June 2007.

Abbas also dismissed Hamas leader Ismail Haniya from his post of prime minister, a dismissal Hamas did not accept.

"We are the legal government, and I believe that it is completely wrong to come to Gaza and not meet with the legal government's representatives," Shrafi said.

Israel imposed its blockade in the summer of 2006, after militants from the enclave, led by Hamas, launched a cross-border raid in which they snatched an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who is still being held.

The blockade was significantly tightened after the Hamas seizure of the Strip a year later, but was eased in the summer of this year, although Israel still does not permit exports to leave.

Westerwelle called Monday on Shalit's captors to "let him go home to his family."

On Sunday, in Jerusalem, he met with Shalit's father Noam, who is waging an international campaign for his son' return.

Hamas is demanding that Israel free hundreds of jailed militants in return for releasing Shalit.