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Middle East

Westerwelle: 'Rocket fire from Gaza must stop'

As Middle East violence rages, many are urging for a truce between Israel and Hamas. German public broadcaster ARD spoke with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle about preventing an Israeli ground operation.

Ulrich Deppendorf/ARD: Mr. Westerwelle, the fighting continues, with dozens of fatalities, and no cease-fire in sight. You will having talks in Tel Aviv on Monday. Are you hopeful that you can help prevent a ground operation from starting?

Guido Westerwelle: The most important thing is that we see to it that a cease-fire is possible. I spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on the telephone and we agreed that the way to a cease-fire must be paved as soon as possible. But that means, more than anything, that the rocket fire that has been directed from Gaza toward southern Israel for months now has to stop. That is the prerequisite.

The Egyptian government has played and continues to play an important role. Do you believe that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is, one, willing, and two, able, to intervene and call back Hamas?

I have the impression that the Egyptian government is aware of its responsibility. I have also spoken with the new Egyptian President Morsi at various times and have the impression that he wants to shift Egypt's influence into the Middle East process more centrally once again. But that also means weapons supplies that have presumably flowed from Egypt to Gaza must cease immediately because that is the root of all that we are seeing now. Israel - and I want to reiterate this - did not begin firing back on its own, but stated that if the rocket attacks did not stop, it would have to take action. There have been hundreds of rockets fired into southern Israel in the past few months, so Israel has the right to protect its own population.

A Palestinian woman reacts in dismay in front of a destroyed house after an Israeli air strike in Gaza City November 19, 2012. Copryight: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Israel says it has a right to defend itself from rockets out of Gaza, but this Palestinian woman has felt the ache of returned strikes.

But your colleague, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, explicitly cautioned against a ground operation initiated by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's government.

What's most important is that we're all working towards a cease-fire, but all the prerequisites must be in place for that. And the key thing is that rocket fire from Gaza toward southern Israel must stop. Once again: it's a horrible thing - the suffering we're seeing there. We're calling on all those involved to be prudent in their approach, that they act in proportion and try to calm down the situation - especially to protect the civilian population. But Israel can also not stand by and watch its own population put in jeopardy while hundreds of rockets are being fired into the country. And that did not start just now, but has been going on for months in increasing numbers. That's why we will, in talks, stress the need for a de-escalation of the situation and, at the same time, try to ensure that the primary prerequisite for a cease-fire - namely, a stop to rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel - is fulfilled.

Interview: Ulrich Deppendorf of German public broadcaster ARD / als

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