Berlin plays down Israeli call for Germany to lead Gaza mission

During peace talks, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier offered to restore an EU presence at the Rafah checkpoint

 German minister for foreign affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier: ‘Together with our European partners we are ready to make a contribution, such as an EU mission to oversee border crossings.’ Photograph: EPA/Julien Warnand

German minister for foreign affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier: ‘Together with our European partners we are ready to make a contribution, such as an EU mission to oversee border crossings.’ Photograph: EPA/Julien Warnand

Fri, Aug 8, 2014, 01:01

Germany has reacted cautiously to Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s call for Berlin to lead an EU inspection mission to Gaza.

As a 72-hour ceasefire between Israel and Hamas expires today, German officials confirmed that Berlin, Paris and London had proposed reactivating an EU mission on the Egyptian border to Gaza with the aim of stabilising the Palestinian enclave.

During peace talks in Egypt, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier – with his counterparts from France and Britain – offered to restore an EU presence at the Rafah checkpoint. Until its closure, it was a crucial border crossing for Gaza’s 1.8 million inhabitants.

Yesterday Mr Lieberman said Israel was in favour of all ideas to prevent a resurgence of violence, particularly if they prevent Hamas smuggling new weapons into the enclave. In this, he said, Berlin had a “very significant” role to play as the “leading political nation in Europe”.

“Germany has to bring EU governments to one table to develop a solution and prevent an economic and humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza,” he said.

“Germany and the EU have to send inspectors to Gaza to oversee trade between the Palestinians and their neighbours . . . We don’t want to administer Gaza again but there has to be a solution for the people there and Germany should assume responsibility as leader of such a mission.”

Border crossings

His German counterpart, Mr Steinmeier, said he could envision such a mission to Gaza but played down the idea of German “leadership” of it.

“Together with our European partners we are ready to make a contribution, such as an EU mission to oversee border crossings,” he said. “At present we are holding intensive talks with all sides to create the conditions for such a solution.”

Under discussion is a revival of the 2005-2007 Eubam mission in which 90 EU inspectors oversaw traffic at the Palestinian-Egyptian border crossing in Rafah. Some 15 German officials – 10 federal police and five customs officials – took part in the original mission. It began after Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza Strip but ended in June 2007 when Hamas rose to power and the border crossing was closed. Four Eubam officials remain in Israel, but are stationed in Tel Aviv.

German officials said yesterday the mission could be reactivated within days, if so wished, but that details remained to be clarified. In addition to the border crossing mission, officials in Berlin say an international observer team with a UN mandate could be deployed in Gaza.

Mr Lieberman said yesterday Israel was not in favour of the mission involving European police or troops. It remains unclear what Hamas thinks of the proposals.

News of a possible EU mission to the Gaza-Egyptian border, supported by all sides in the region, attracted broad support from all political camps in Germany yesterday.

Reinhold Robbe, former Bundestag military co-ordinator and now president of the German-Israeli Association, said such a mission would have to have a UN mandate.

“I don’t know if customs officials with an ordinary police guard will be enough to get a hold of things,” he said. “I think one won’t be able to get around military safeguard for such a supervisory mission.”

Mr Robbe said it was not clear whether ordinary Germans would support the idea of sending troops to Israel and Gaza, given the country’s Holocaust history. “I think we have an obligation and cannot just close our eyes,” he said. “In spite of – and even because of – our history we have a particular responsibility. Israel wants a long-term peace and Europe can play an important role.”