German Foreign Minister returns to Israel on second 'solidarity'
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Thursday embarked on her second trip to Israel since the deadly Hamas attacks to express "unwavering solidarity" and help ensure Palestinian access to aid.
The trip, due to last until Saturday according to her ministry, will also take in Jordan and Lebanon, where German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius was making a surprise visit on Thursday.
Before her departure, Baerbock insisted on Israel's "right to defend itself against Hamas terror" and accused the militant group of using the civilian population of the Gaza Strip as "human shields" in its conflict with Israel.
Hamas gunmen broke through Israel's heavily fortified Gaza border on October 7, killing more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians, and taking at least 199 people hostage, according to Israel.
Israel has responded to the attacks with relentless air strikes on Gaza that have killed more than 3,470 people, mainly civilians, according to the Hamas-controlled health ministry, and imposed a crippling siege on the Palestinian enclave that has left its inhabitants with dwindling supplies of food, water and fuel.
"It is important to me to make clear to Palestinians that we also recognise their suffering," Baerbock said, describing the humanitarian situation in Gaza as "catastrophic".
Baerbock, who already visited Israel and Egypt last week followed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, said Berlin was working closely with the G7, European Union and regional partners to ensure aid could flow into Gaza.
She said she would also "use the trip to speak with all those who have channels to Hamas" to discuss how to secure the release of hostages held by the group.
Pistorius's ministry said his visit to Lebanon "at short notice" was to thank German soldiers serving with UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force deployed in a buffer zone between northern Israel and southern Lebanon.
It posted on X, formerly Twitter, that the minister also intended to "get informed about the impact of the conflict in Israel and Gaza on the (German) contingent in the region".