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Netanyahu says German official crossed line meeting with NGO

Associated Press logo Associated Press 28/04/2017 By FRANK JORDANS, Associated Press
German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, left, shakes hands with Israel's President, Reuven Rivlin during their meeting at the President's residence in Jerusalem, Tuesday, April 25, 2017. Gabriel said Tuesday it would be "regrettable" if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancels their planned talks in Jerusalem because of his meeting with groups critical of Israel's actions in the West Bank, but downplayed the spat. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner) © The Associated Press German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, left, shakes hands with Israel's President, Reuven Rivlin during their meeting at the President's residence in Jerusalem, Tuesday, April 25, 2017. Gabriel said Tuesday it would be "regrettable" if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancels their planned talks in Jerusalem because of his meeting with groups critical of Israel's actions in the West Bank, but downplayed the spat. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

BERLIN — German officials on Friday defended a decision by the country's top diplomat to meet with an Israeli human rights group, after Israel's prime minister said the move had crossed a "red line."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly canceled planned talks Tuesday with Germany's visiting foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, over his meeting with Breaking the Silence, a group critical of Israeli military actions in the West Bank.

"My red line is I don't meet with diplomats who come to Israel and give legitimacy to fringe groups that wrongly accuse our soldiers of war crimes and undermine the security of Israel," Netanyahu told German daily Bild in an interview published Friday.

"Breaking the Silence isn't a human rights organization," the paper quoted Netanyahu as saying. "Its aim is to criminalize Israeli soldiers."

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said the Israeli prime minister's position — which he described as the "Netanyahu doctrine" — hadn't been communicated to German officials before the trip and called demands for Gabriel to refrain from meeting the group "inappropriate."

He dismissed Netanyahu's description of the group, saying its members were "all, or at least overwhelmingly, respectable Israeli citizens who served in the Israeli armed forces."

The group collects and publishes anonymous testimony from Israeli soldiers about their experiences in the occupied Palestinian territories.

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