Germany's Scholz heads to Middle East to press Israel on Gaza aid

Chancellor to meet Jordanian King and Israeli President and Prime Minister on two-day trip

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz last visited Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in October, shortly after the outbreak of war. AFP
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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is travelling to the Middle East on Saturday with a message to Israel that the supply of aid to besieged Gaza “must get better”.

Mr Scholz will meet Jordan's King Abdullah II and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog on a two-day trip, his office said.

On his previous visit in October, Mr Scholz stressed Israel's right to defend itself and lauded it as a democracy like Germany that would seek to minimise civilian casualties in Gaza.

Since then, the mounting humanitarian crisis triggered by Israel's offensive has prompted its allies, including Germany, to take a sharper tone.

While officials emphasise Germany's solidarity with Israel, they are urging it to open more land crossings to Gaza and make the port of Ashdod available as an aid route.

Mr Scholz “massively warns against” an Israeli offensive in Rafah, in the south of Gaza, and believes the supply of humanitarian aid “must get considerably better”, his spokesman said.

While in Israel he will also say that a hostage release being negotiated with Hamas could open the door to a ceasefire and wider peace talks.

In Jordan, Mr Scholz is expected to the discuss air route into Gaza, in which aid packages are dropped into the strip by parachute.

Two German C-130J Hercules transport planes are using Jordan as a base for their humanitarian airlifts, which began this week with aid from the World Food Programme.

Germany is also involved behind the scenes in a UAE-backed maritime corridor, where the first ship and its 200 tonnes of aid arrived off the Gaza coast on Friday.

However, the air and sea routes are “at most, a second-best solution” and Israel should open further land crossings such as Erez and Karni to allow more aid in, German officials said.

Unloading maritime aid is difficult because Gaza has no working port and a US plan to build a temporary pier is likely to take weeks.

“The simplest and most effective method to bring humanitarian aid into Gaza is by land transport,” a second German official said. “We are still working on that, and we call for border checks to be carried out faster and more effectively.”

In addition, “our appeal to our Israeli friends is finally to open the port of Ashdod … the port infrastructure is available there, ships can be unloaded with no problem.”

Germany will take the stand before the International Court of Justice in April to respond to allegations by Nicaragua that it is enabling a genocide in Gaza, it was announced on Friday.

Lawyers for Germany, which rejects the claim that a genocide is taking place, also plan to intervene on Israel's side in its legal battle with South Africa at the ICJ.

Nicaragua's case rests partly on Germany's decision, in common with several other countries, to suspend funding to aid agency UNRWA, which looks after Palestinian refugees.

Payments were suspended after allegations emerged that some UNRWA staff were involved in Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war.

Germany will decide on its next steps regarding UNRWA once it has seen the results of two investigations and the response by UN staff, officials say.

Updated: March 16, 2024, 3:23 PM