Foreign Minister Baerbock stated the following at a press conference in Cairo on Saturday (21 October):
During the last 72 hours, I have been in four different countries here in the Middle East – in Jordan, in Israel, in Lebanon and now here at this summit in Egypt.
In all of these places, I have made it clear that Germany stands firmly by Israel’s side. And I have made it equally clear that we are not turning a blind eye to the terrible situation in Gaza. We see the suffering, the suffering of people, of women, small children and men in Gaza.
Hamas is using them as human shields. Hamas’ terror must be tackled, otherwise there will be no peace and no security, neither for Israelis nor for Palestinians.
At the same time, new immense suffering among the civilian population in Gaza does not lessen the terror but, rather, creates a breeding ground for new terrorism.
It is not easy to thwart this perfidious strategy. My Israeli interlocutors see this very dilemma. It is like trying to square the circle. Indeed, today’s conference in Cairo was all about squaring the circle, as all the Heads of State and Government present made clear. That is precisely the impression I have gained again during my 72 hours in this region.
People are in turmoil, they are grieving and they are deeply worried about how things might develop.
The desperate father whom I met on my first visit to Israel, who still does not know what is happening to his wife and two little daughters because they are still in the hands of Hamas – civilian hostages in the hands of terrorists.
The desperate mothers in Gaza who do not know where to find water for their children in this crisis, and the young families in Lebanon who are paralysed by fear at the thought of renewed military escalation.
The fear of a regional conflagration is huge.
Hamas’ playbook is not only to bring death and destruction upon the region. Hamas would also like to use its terror to drive a wedge between the Arab states and the Global North and, in particular, to prevent further rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia. It was important to me and many colleagues at the conference in Cairo to demonstrate the very opposite.
At this conference here in Cairo, Egypt brought together a very diverse group of states, naturally from the Arab world, from Europe and from Africa, but also from Asia, Latin America and North America.
We all know that our perceptions of the conflict are certainly different. However, we all believe that a conflagration in the region must be prevented for the sake of the entire world. That the human suffering in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank cannot continue like this.
At the same time, it is not surprising that there was no joint statement at the end of the conference. In my view, that was clear from the start. As important as it is to the European Union, to us, that a humanitarian disaster is prevented, it is also important to us to clearly condemn Hamas’ brutal terror, which triggered the crisis. And, needless to say, Israel has the same right and obligation as any other country in the world to protect its own population within the parameters of international humanitarian law.
Especially on the fringes of this summit today, we therefore discussed a whole range of issues, in particular, of course, how a regional escalation can be prevented, how we can work together to best ensure that the civilian population in Gaza is protected, how we can now get aid supplies into Gaza. And, of course, the release of the hostages was a central focus of this conference.
People in Gaza, including many families, many children, are suffering due to the appalling conditions. Small children, pregnant women, as well as elderly grandfathers and grandmothers are going hungry and they have no choice but to drink unclean water. The humanitarian situation is desperate. There is quite literally a lack of everything.
At the same time, hundreds of containers with water, food and medicines are backed up at the border in Rafah.
Today’s opening of the Rafah border crossing for 20 lorries with urgently needed relief supplies is a small sign of hope at this difficult time.
However, today’s delivery of relief supplies must and can only be a first step. As well as food and medicines, people urgently need fuel to keep the generators of the hospitals in Gaza going and to get the central desalination plants and water pumps – which are key to the drinking water supply – operating again.
I therefore call on all sides to start work immediately on creating the conditions necessary to keep the Rafah border crossing open on a permanent basis, to enable humanitarian goods and the urgently needed fuel to pass through.
Let me take this opportunity here in Egypt to address the debate about this back in Germany.
During the last few days, some politicians have expressed their opposition to any kind of assistance for people in Gaza. I would like to state very clearly that this is not about abstract or theoretical debates – it is about people. Yes, this is quite literally about life and death. I therefore want to ask those who are now demanding that no humanitarian aid be sent to Gaza: should we really let more than two million people in Gaza, half of them children, die of thirst because they can no longer find safe drinking water?
Should we really allow pregnant women to be put at risk because urgently needed medical care can no longer be funded or hospitals cannot operate without fuel or electricity?
And what does that mean for our cooperation with other European countries, the United States, Canada, the UK and all the neighbouring countries in the region which, like Germany, have just increased their humanitarian assistance for people in Gaza?
And what would it actually mean for cooperation with the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, for Egypt and not least Israel, which are currently making every effort to inspect the trucks at the border in such a way that makes it impossible for Hamas to use them to bring in new supplies for themselves.
Let me therefore say very clearly that humanitarian assistance for people in need is a humanitarian imperative.
Naturally, we have to do everything we can to ensure that none of it ends up in the hands of Hamas. That is why we are closely reviewing our assistance, as we have in the past. The German Bundestag has just decided that once more.
That is why we are providing our humanitarian assistance via the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the many other subsidiary organisations of the United Nations, just as we do in any other humanitarian disaster in other parts of the world.
And, by the way, during my political talks in Israel I did not hear anyone seriously demanding that we now stop supplying water.
For Israel, too, it is clear that the task is to fight Hamas, not the Palestinian civilian population.
The release yesterday of two hostages thanks to the mediation efforts of Qatar, the fact that a mother and her daughter can now take their family in their arms again, is a small glimmer of hope. It is a demonstration of international cooperation, especially in a situation which could not be any more difficult.
Needless to say, the fate of the other hostages was one of the key issues discussed at this conference, which brought together so many different players from the region. Many of the Foreign Ministers and Heads of State and Government present are concerned themselves about their own nationals who have been abducted by Hamas, just as Germany is.
Of course, the major political issues were also discussed at this conference. It was important to me that we used this opportunity to address what a political horizon could look like. Even though a horizon, as the name says, lies somewhat in the distance. One of the aims now, even if it is still in the distance, is to look at what the next step can be to bring about lasting peace, for Israelis, for Palestinians, for people in the region.
What will become of Gaza? Who will ensure security? Who will take over the civilian administration?
It goes without saying that Hamas will and must no longer do this, nor should Israel. Indeed, Israel has officially declared just that. That it does not want to do it.
In view of the dramatic situation, it seems almost presumptuous to even think about it. Nevertheless, the day will come when the international community will need a plan for Gaza.
That is why we must start considering this as soon as possible. Germany, along with many other partners, therefore discussed this together.
Just like many other partners, Germany believes that only a negotiated two‑state solution can ensure durable peace for Israel and the Palestinians. For this we need new ideas, a process and support.
In the face of the horror of this crisis, we must now find the strength to launch a fresh attempt. Whenever that is possible. I called for that today. As did many, many other colleagues.