Reuters: German Chancellor Angela Merkel begins her first official trip to Israel on Sunday, where she will voice concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme and the victory of Islamist militant Hamas in the Palestinian election.
By Louis Charbonneau
BERLIN, Jan 29 (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel begins her first official trip to Israel on Sunday, where she will voice concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme and the victory of Islamist militant Hamas in the Palestinian election.
During her two-day visit, Merkel will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert, acting Israeli prime minister since Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke and fell into a coma on Jan. 4.
She was also due to meet President Moshe Katsav and Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party who is challenging Olmert in Israel’s upcoming general election.
Merkel is scheduled to meet Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah. She will be the first European Union leader to visit the Palestinian territories since Hamas won last week’s election.
But she will not meet with any members of the militant Islamist group.
“Our partner in dialogue is not Hamas, but Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian territories,” government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm told reporters on Friday.
Hamas’s charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and the group has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings in Israel since the start of a Palestinian uprising in 2000.
Germany, along with the EU and United States, has called on Hamas to renounce violence, disarm and acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. Hamas leaders have refused and say they are prepared to set up a government by themselves.
The United States has said it would review aid to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas enters government and Israel suggested it could suspend customs revenue transfers. The EU, the biggest donor, is looking at its options.
Merkel will also discuss the nuclear programme of Iran, whose hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” and publicly doubted that 6 million Jews had been killed by the Nazis during World War Two.
Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany and Merkel has repeatedly condemned Ahmadinejad for his anti-Israeli remarks.
Tehran is pressing ahead with a uranium enrichment programme that it says is peaceful and will be used only to produce fuel for nuclear power plants. The West, however, is convinced Iran intends to produce enriched uranium fuel for nuclear weapons.
Israel views Iran’s nuclear programme as an “existential threat” and has hinted it could use military action to prevent the Islamic republic from getting the bomb.
Rabbi Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress, met Merkel in Berlin last week and urged her to make clear that Germany would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran.
“Although Germany and many of its European neighbours were not prepared to get involved in Iraq, something has to be done in the case of Iran,” Singer wrote in an opinion piece published in the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung last week.
Germany, France and Britain have been trying for 2-1/2 years to persuade Tehran to give up enrichment in exchange for political and economic incentives but Iran has refused.
The EU3 have now joined Washington in calling for the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, to take up the matter.