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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008, 17:02 GMT
Merkel tells Knesset of 'shame'
Angela Merkel, second from left, is greeted by Dalia Itzik, speaker of the Israeli Knesset, on Tuesday
The red carpet was rolled out to welcome Ms Merkel to the Knesset
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told the Israeli parliament that Germans are "filled with shame" over the Nazi Holocaust in World War II.

She said Germany would always be a "true friend and partner" to Israel.

Bilateral ties have been strengthened on this visit, with an agreement to work together on several fronts.

But several MPs at the Knesset in Jerusalem walked out before the speech, saying Mrs Merkel's decision to speak in German was inappropriate.

They say it evokes painful memories of the Holocaust.

However Mrs Merkel has been given a warm welcome, says the BBC's Katya Adler in Jerusalem, and her visit has caused little fuss outside the Knesset.

Applause

Mrs Merkel's speech came at the end of a three-day trip to Israel marking the 60th anniversary of its founding.

She drew applause when she began with a Hebrew sentence, thanking MPs for the "honour" of addressing parliament - the first by a German head of government.

I bow before the victims, I bow before the survivors, and before all those who helped them so they could survive
Angela Merkel

"Germany will never abandon Israel but will remain a true friend and partner," Mrs Merkel said, in remarks carried by AFP news agency.

"Sixty years of Israel: that is most of all an occasion for great joy...

"Germany and Israel are and will always remain linked in a special way through the memory of the Holocaust. The Holocaust fills us Germans with shame," said Mrs Merkel.

"I bow before the victims, I bow before the survivors, and before all those who helped them so they could survive."

Mrs Merkel has spoken of her commitment to helping resolve the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, but the Islamist militant movement Hamas has accused her of ignoring Israeli actions in Gaza.

In her speech, she condemned Hamas rocket attacks on Israel, and said Berlin would not impose "unsolicited advice" on Israel.

Her government said last week that it would host an international conference to help the Palestinians prepare for statehood, and she spoke to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas by telephone before she left Germany last week.

Joint cabinet meeting

Mrs Merkel's visit, along with half of her cabinet, has included meetings with Israeli leaders, and a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli PM Ehud Olmert
Israeli and German leaders will meet annually from now on

On Monday Israel and Germany upgraded their ties when Mrs Merkel chaired a historic joint cabinet session.

A joint statement followed on the strengthening of political, cultural, economic and social relations.

In the 60 years since the Nazi genocide, Germany has become Israel's staunchest ally in Europe.

The agreement institutes annual meetings at prime ministerial, ministerial and cabinet levels.

Germany already has similar agreements with France, Italy, Spain, Poland and Russia. It is Israel's first such agreement with another state.



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