By Michael Nienaber
AACHEN/BERLIN, Germany (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have called on Israel and Iran to exercise restraint in the Middle East to avoid further escalation of hostilities in the region, a German government spokesman said on Thursday.
Israel said it attacked nearly all of Iran's military infrastructure in Syria after Iranian forces fired rockets at Israeli-held territory for the first time.
"The escalations of the past few hours show us that it is truly about war and peace. And I can only call on all sides to exercise restraint here," Merkel said during a ceremony awarding Macron the Charlemagne Prize for strengthening EU integration.
Both leaders discussed the Iranian rocket attacks and Israel's response and called for prudence and de-escalation, a German government spokesman said.
Expectations of a flare-up in the Middle East were stoked by President Donald Trump's announcement on Tuesday that he was withdrawing the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
The Trump administration portrayed its rejection of that agreement as a response, in part, to Tehran's interventions in the Middle East, underpinning Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's tough line towards Iran.
Merkel told Iran's President Hassan Rouhani in a telephone call later on Thurdsay that she supported maintaining the nuclear accord as long as Tehran upholds its side of the deal.
Merkel called for talks to be held in a broader format on Iran's ballistic missile programme and its regional activities - including in Syria and Yemen, her office said in a statement.
She condemned overnight attacks by Iranian forces on Israeli military positions in the Golan Heights, and called on Iran to contribute to de-escalation in the region.
"LET'S FACE IT"
In her speech, Merkel urged the European Union to improve its foreign and defence policy, arguing that Europe could no longer fully rely on the United States to protect it.
"Let's face it, Europe is still in its infancy with regard to the common foreign policy," she said. "And it will be existentially necessary to make progress here because the nature of the conflicts has completely changed since the end of the Cold War."
Pointing to the civil war in Syria, Merkel said that many of the global conflicts today were flaring on the doorstep of Europe.
"And it is no longer the case that the United States of America will simply protect us. Instead, Europe has to take its destiny into its own hands. That is the task for the future."
Macron echoed the call to flesh out Europe's common foreign and defence policy. "We made the choice to build peace in the Middle East. Other powers ... haven't kept their word," Macron said, without naming a country directly.
"We must succeed in building our own sovereignty, which in this region, will be the guarantor of stability," he said.
(Reporting by Reuters TV in Aachen, Michael Nienaber in Berlin, Richard Lough in Paris, writing by Michael Nienaber, Editing by Larry King, William Maclean)
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Updated Date: May 11, 2018 00:11 AM