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British and German foreign ministers urge restraint in visit to Israel

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, met today with visiting foreign ministers from Britain and Germany. Those foreign ministers were there to urge restraint in Israel's response to Iran's unprecedented attack last weekend. Meanwhile, Israel's military has increased airstrikes in Gaza. Well, NPR's Rob Schmitz is in Tel Aviv. He joins me now to update all of this news. Hey there, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: OK, so this was Britain's foreign secretary, David Cameron, Germany's foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, who were there speaking with Netanyahu today. Do we have any more details on what actually got said or agreed?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, as you mentioned, the pair came to Israel to try and persuade Netanyahu to do as little as possible to further escalate tensions in the Middle East. That's after Israel had near-complete success fending off an unprecedented massive missile and drone attack from Iran last weekend. Europe, as well as the United States, are very concerned that an Israeli counter strike could lead to a broader war in the region.

KELLY: Yeah.

SCHMITZ: They presented their case to Netanyahu today. But following their discussion, here's what Netanyahu said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Non-English language spoken).

SCHMITZ: So Mary Louise, Netanyahu thanked the two for their support in the defense of Israel. And then he said, while he listened to their advice and suggestions, he wanted to clarify that quote, "we will make our decisions ourselves" and that the State of Israel will do whatever is necessary to defend itself. Now, what that actually is, is still anybody's guess. Israel's war cabinet has met regularly since the Iran attack and has been pretty tight-lipped about how it's going to respond.

KELLY: Rob, what about the advice from these visiting diplomats on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza? - 'cause they brought that up, too. How did Netanyahu respond?

SCHMITZ: They did. And Netanyahu made it a point to reject the many reports from international organizations about hunger in Gaza. Earlier this month, USAID Director Samantha Powers (ph) contributed to this, saying it was credible to assess that famine was occurring in parts of Gaza. But Netanyahu today said, quote, "Israel goes above and beyond in humanitarian efforts."

KELLY: Would you update us on just the state of the war there in Gaza? I know Israel is continuing its offensive in several parts of the Gaza Strip, but they have yet to enter Rafah. This is the southern Gaza City where we have been watching and waiting because Israel keeps promising it's going to go in.

SCHMITZ: And which is home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have escaped airstrikes in other parts of Gaza - you know, in a press conference today, the prime minister's spokesman said there are four Hamas divisions in Rafah, equating them to 20% of Hamas. And he vowed that they would be defeated, repeating what Prime Minister Netanyahu said earlier this month, that a date for entering Rafah has been decided and that the military is preparing. Last night, Israeli forces struck a home in Rafah, killing seven people - among those, four children, according to Palestinian health officials. NPR producer Anas Baba visited the destroyed home this morning, and he went to the morgue, where family members identified the bodies of their loved ones, all of them in a row of black body bags.

JIHAN ABO AL-HANOUD: (Crying, non-English language spoken).

SCHMITZ: Mary Louise, the voice you're hearing there is Jihan Abo Al-Hanoud, the mother of one of the men who was killed, Hassan Abu Al-Hanoud. And she's saying, "show me my son, show me my son." And later on she says, "shame on the Arab countries who have let this happen." And it's interesting, you know, this feeling that Arab countries are not doing enough to stop Israel is something that Anas has heard more and more as Gazans in places like Rafah feel increasingly desperate as this war rages on. And the government of one Arab country, Egypt, did speak to this topic today. A spokesman for Egypt's Ministry of Information appeared on Al Arabiya television, and he questioned whether Israel understood Egypt's warnings about entering Rafah, insinuating that doing so could risk a peace between Israel and Egypt that has lasted for 45 years.

KELLY: NPR's Rob Schmitz joining us today from Tel Aviv. Thank you, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
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