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German foreign minister calls Netanyahu threat to cancel meeting 'regrettable'

By Reuters | Updated Tue, April 25th 2017 at 11:19 GMT +3
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Tuesday it would be "regrettable" if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called off a meeting between the two in Israel, as he threatened to do if the foreign minister met with an Israeli rights group.

Gabriel said it would be a "remarkable event, to put it mildly," if Netanyahu canceled their planned talks, arguing it was normal to talk to civil society representatives.

"Imagine if the Israeli Prime Minister ... came to Germany and wanted to meet people critical of the government and we said that is not possible ... That would be unthinkable," he told Germany's ZDF television.

A German foreign ministry spokeswoman had said the minister was due to meet civil society groups but declined to identify them.

Germany sees itself as one of Israel's closest allies, but the legacy of the Holocaust means their ties are highly charged, and in recent years Berlin has been increasingly critical of Israel's settlement plans.

Israeli media said Gabriel would meet with "Breaking the Silence," a group that collects testimonies from Israeli veterans about the military's treatment of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the influence it says Israeli settlers have on the army's actions.

Israeli Environment Minister Zeev Elkin, a confidante of Netanyahu, told Israel radio it was "unthinkable" for a minister to meet groups working against the country he was visiting.

"The time has come for us to put an end to this situation in which anyone can come and meet groups that act against Israel ... you are entitled to meet whoever you want, but don't expect that all the leaders of the state will stand in line to meet you," he said.