German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeiers bemoaned conditions in the Gaza Strip as “catastrophic” during his visit to the blockaded coastal Mediterranean Palestinian enclave on Monday.
Speaking during his visit to a United Nations girls school which was built with German funds, Steinmeier called for urgency in improving living conditions for Gaza’s 1.8 million people, who were ravaged by a 50-day military campaign by Israel last summer.
The war claimed the lives of over 2,100 Palestinians, most of whom were civilians, while 67 Israeli soldiers were also killed along with six Israeli noncombatants.
"We cannot wait until talks about a two-state solution are back on track, to improve living conditions," Steinmeier said, referring to the stalled peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The German foreign minister also called for the end of the blockade on Gaza, which has been enforced by Israel since Hamas came to power in the enclave in 2007.
"We need local investments, and from abroad. Hence we also need the possibility to export the goods, which are being produced here [in Gaza]. This can happen only by opening the borders," he told reporters.
However, Steinmeier added that the blockades could only be lifted under assurances that Gaza will no longer serve as a “launchpad” for rockets fired on Israel by Hamas fighters.
"We are sitting on a powder-keg here. We must make sure it doesn't ignite."
According to German news agency DPA, Steinmeier did not meet with any officials from Gaza’s Hamas government during his visit to the region, which was made to mark 50 years of German-Israeli relations.
His visit to the enclave came a day after he met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem, followed by a separate visit to Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in Ramallah as part of his efforts to revive the talks between the two sides.
Talks were stalled last year when the Fatah government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared a joint government with Hamas in response to Israel’s continued illegal settlement building in the occupied territories of the West Bank.