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Middle East

German approval for Gaza mission

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has called on Germany to lead a control mission on the borders of the Gaza Strip. Politicians in Berlin say they can imagine giving their approval.

Politicians from various parties can imagine Germany participating in a mission to control the Rafah checkpoint between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. "I personally believe that it's our duty, and that we must not turn a blind eye to what's going on," said Reinhold Robbe, the chairman of the German-Israeli community and a former parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces. "Germany has a special responsibility because of its history."

Lieberman wants German leadership

European border guards have controlled the Rafah checkpoint before. The first European Union Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) to Rafah went from 2005 to 2007, after Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza Strip. But the European Union ended the mission after Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 and took control of Gaza in 2007. Over the past few days, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his counterparts in France and the United Kingdom have hinted at the possibility of taking up control of the crossing once again.

Israel's foreign minister Lieberman sees Germany as 'Europe's leading political nation'

The idea was welcomed by Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman in an interview with the German mass-circulation broadsheet Bild: The EU should "send inspectors that control trade between Gaza and its neighbors," he told the newspaper, adding that because of its "role as a politically leading nation in Europe" Germany ought to "assume responsibility as the leader of such a mission." Fresh escalation would have to be prevented by all means, Lieberman added. The question was "how to make sure that Hamas doesn't collect its terrorist strengths again and smuggle new weapons into the country."

In an article to be published Friday in Bild, Steimeier said that he could see Germany having a role in Gaza following Israel's monthlong war there.

"Together with our European partners, we are ready to make a contribution, for example with an EU monitoring mission of the border crossing," Steinmeier told Bild. "We are holding intensive talks with all sides to work out what would be necessary for this," he added.

The German newspaper FAZ quoted a Foreign Ministry source as saying that the Palestinian National Authority would have to be a "legitimate partner" in the process.

The border to Egypt is currently closed to both goods and persons. If the European proposal is accepted by parties on the ground, EU policemen and customs officers would return to Rafah and control border crossings there.

Will all sides agree?

It remains unclear what Hamas thinks of the idea and whether Egypt would even agree to open the checkpoint. Leaders in Cairo have taken a tough stance on Islamists within Egypt, and they want to see Hamas isolated internationally.

"The condition for Germany to take part is that all sides agree," said Niels Annen, the spokesman on foreign policy affairs for the Social Democrats (SPD).

The news agency Reuters quoted deputy SPD group chairman Rolf Mützenich as saying that a relatively safe environment would have to be guaranteed and that that was not the case at the moment.

Robbe, the president of the German-Israeli community, favors a UN mandate for such a mission. It was important to have military protection, he said: "I'm not sure it would be enough to send customs officials supported by ordinary policemen," Robbe told German public radio Deutschlandfunk.

Roderich Kiesewetter, a security expert for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, said that "having German soldiers on the ground is not an option because that would be unacceptable for Israel."

Philipp Missfelder (CDU) wants Germany to help Israel disarm radical groups.

The SPD's Annen said he still believes that opening the checkpoint under international control is the right way to go. "If you keep up the blockade, there will only be more tunnels in future," he warned.

Members of the opposition Left party have already signaled their approval, even if the faction has traditionally been critical of German security forces' missions abroad. "If the EU can help, it should do so," Left foreign policy expert Stefan Liebich said. And he added that he would support Germany's doing its share of the work.

Philipp Missfelder, of the CDU, suggested that Germany go a step further. "A control mission could help disarm radical groups in the Gaza Strip," he said.

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