Merkel Marks Israel's 60th Anniversary

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CBNNews.com - JERUSALEM, Israel - German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Israel Sunday for a three-day visit marking the nation's 60th Anniversary. It is Merkel's second visit to Israel since becoming chancellor in 2005.

In remarks to the media upon her arrival, Merkel said Germany's history has given her nation a "special responsibility" toward the Jewish state.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert noted that 63 years after the Nazi Holocaust, Germany is one of Israel's "strongest allies."

Following the press conference, Merkel traveled to Sde Boker, a kibbutz (agricultural community) in the southern Negev, which was home to David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister.

On Monday morning, Merkel visited Yad VaShem, the Jerusalem memorial to the Holocaust, where she laid a wreath at the Hall of Remembrance.

"Out of awareness of its historical responsibility, the Republic of Germany will never shirk its responsibility for preserving the memory of the Holocaust in the future," Merkel said.

Avner Shalev, who heads the Yad VaShem Directorate, called the German chancellor's visit particularly meaningful.

"Merkel insisted that some of her ministers join her for the ceremony," Shalev said. "One of the issues she emphasized is the need for increased training for [Germany's] teachers and education [of its] teenagers on the Holocaust," he said.

Joint Israeli-German Cabinet Session

Later Monday, Israeli and German ministers held a joint session, a first-ever for Germany outside of Europe. The two countries agreed to establish an annual meeting at the ministerial-chancellor level, which Germany holds with France, Italy, Spain, Poland and Russia.

The two cabinets discussed several new joint ventures in environmental protection, education, science and defense.

"The two sides seek to strengthen and intensify their political, cultural, economic and social relations as a partnership of democratic and pluralistic nations," read a joint statement issued after the meeting.

In separate meetings, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni spoke with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeir about the Iranian nuclear threat.

And Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his counterpart, German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, signed an agreement on security cooperation, which includes joint military training projects.

Merkel to Address Knesset

On Tuesday, Chancellor Merkel will address the Israeli Knesset (parliament) in her native tongue, which caused some initial controversy that was resolved. Some Israelis are sensitive to the German language because of family members who perished in the Holocaust.

Merkel and her delegation will not meet with Palestinian Authority (PA) officials during this trip, but Germany plans to hold a meeting in Berlin sometime in the future to help the PA upgrade their security forces and justice system. Germany is one of the PA's major donors.

In an interview on Germany's public television station, ARD, Merkel said the PA understood her decision not to visit the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) on this trip.

Riad Malki, Palestinian Authority foreign minister, said Merkel would pay them a "special visit" to show her support for the Palestinian people.

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas wrote his doctoral thesis on Holocaust denial, a diametrically opposed view to that of the German chancellor.

Sources: Haaretz, YNet news service, The Jerusalem Post

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