Czech minister first foreign official to visit Israel in wake of attacks

Jan Lipavský

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský was the first foreign dignitary to visit Israel in the wake of Saturday’s attack on the country by the Palestinian group Hamas. He assured President Yitzhak Herzog and his Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen of Czechia’s full support in this crisis.

Flying to Jerusalem straight from a meeting between the EU and the Gulf Cooperation Council in Oman, the Czech foreign minister discussed a range of political and practical issues relating to the current conflict with his Israeli counterpart and the country’s president. Addressing journalists at a press conference in Prague on his return, Mr Lipavský explained why he made the trip:

“I thought it important to personally express Czechia’s unanimous support for Israel. The barbaric attack by the terrorist group Hamas shocked me, as I think it did everyone else. I assured Foreign Minister Cohen that Czechia fully supports Israel’s right to self-defence.”

However, the Czech foreign minister’s speech did not ignore the Palestinian people either.

“That doesn’t mean that Czechia doesn’t acknowledge the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. However, it is necessary to say unequivocally that Hamas does not represent these aspirations in any way. It offers nothing to the Palestinian people other than terror and further bloodshed.”

Jan Lipavský | Photo: Michal Kamaryt,  ČTK

The foreign minister roundly condemned the tactics used by Hamas, and mentioned that he had had the opportunity to meet with the granddaughter of an 85-year-old woman who has been abducted by Hamas, describing the granddaughter’s testimony as harrowing.

“Murder, torture and kidnapping of civilians has no place in the civilised world, and I understand why Israel is not letting this go without repercussions.”

However, in response to a question from Czech Radio about whether he had had the opportunity during his meetings with top Israeli officials to discuss his earlier statement that Czechia’s priority was a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, the foreign minister was vague.

“I think the assertion that Israel has a right to self-defence is sufficient, just like the emphasis on adherence to international law. But it wasn’t the time or place to go into concrete details and that wouldn’t have been entirely appropriate.”

Mr Lipavský also addressed the practical issue of Czech citizens in Israel who are trying to get home. He said there were currently 181 Czechs in Israel registered in the foreign ministry’s travel database DROZD. Exactly 34 of them were able to get a ride home with Mr. Lipavský on the foreign ministry’s government plane, including several families with children.

“I had the chance to talk briefly with the citizens who flew home with me. In at least half the cases, they had tried two or three times to buy plane tickets home, but the flights had been cancelled. So they had tried to get home by ordinary means and were not able to.”

He said the Czech embassy in Israel was compiling a list of people interested in repatriation and the foreign ministry would find ways to get them out of the country.

Photo: Ondřej Deml,  ČTK