Merkel: Egypt must use Hamas influence to calm Gaza tension
BRUSSELS - Agence France-Presse
German Chancellor Angela Merkel. AP PhotoGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel today called on Cairo to use its influence on Hamas to ease tensions in the Gaza Strip as Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil visited the violence-wracked area.
"The federal chancellor calls on the Egyptian government to use its influence on Hamas to push it towards a moderation of the violence," Merkel's deputy spokesman Georg Streiter told a regular government news conference.
Streiter added that Merkel was following the escalation of the unrest in the Middle East "with great concern" and stressed: "It is Hamas in Gaza that is responsible for the outbreak of the violence."
"There is no justification for firing rockets on Israel which are causing massive suffering to the Israeli population," Streiter added.
Merkel wants an "immediate" stop to the rocket fire, the official said.
"The Israeli government has the right and the duty to protect its population in an appropriate way." The spokesman declined to comment however on whether Berlin would back a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.
On a visit Friday to the Hamas-run enclave, Qandil vowed to intensify Cairo's efforts to secure a truce and urged world leaders to end Israel's "aggression" in Gaza.
The diplomatic mission came as Israeli officials said the Jewish state was preparing to launch its first ground offensive in four years into the Gaza Strip and the army started calling up 16,000 reservists.
A ceasefire agreed during the brief visit quickly dissolved in violence as militants admitted firing volleys of rockets into Israel and Palestinian security sources said an Israeli air strike hit northern Gaza, killing two.
Israel accused Hamas of violating the agreement but it denied carrying out any strikes.
EU urges Israel to ensure 'proportionate' response in Gaza
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said today that Israel had the right to protect its people against Gaza rocket attacks but urged it to stick to a "proportionate" response.
Deploring the loss of civilian lives on both sides, Ashton said in a statement that "the rocket attacks by Hamas and other factions in Gaza which began this current crisis are totally unacceptable for any government and must stop." "Israel has the right to protect its population from these kinds of attacks. I urge Israel to ensure that its response is proportionate," she added.
Ashton said she had spoken to leaders in the region to stress the need to prevent more escalation and loss of life.
She also voiced hopes that Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, who crossed into Gaza for a brief visit amid Israel's massive military campaign, "will be able calm the situation." Israeli warplanes carried out relentless sorties over the Gaza Strip through the night while Palestinian militants fired more rockets into the Jewish state.
The escalating conflict has drawn expressions of deep concern internationally and sparked anger in the Arab and Muslim world.