Merkel warns against border closures, says to fight for EU-Turkey plan

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s Angela Merkel vowed to push for implementation of the EU’s migration deal with Turkey at a summit this week, saying the alternative of closing borders to limit the flow of refugees to Europe would have dire consequences.

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EU leaders meet on Thursday to discuss the migration crisis, with the German chancellor looking increasingly isolated with her demands for a fair distribution of migrants among EU members and for Turkey to cooperate to stem the flow of people.

At a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, Merkel said the summit would not agree on new quotas for refugees across Europe, saying this would be “laughable” given that fewer than 1,000 have been relocated under an existing scheme.

Rather, she said it was about whether the EU-Turkey pact could successfully tackle the causes of migration or whether the bloc should “give up and instead close the Greek-Macedonian-Bulgarian border with all the consequences that would have for Greece, the European Union and the Schengen zone.”

The leaders of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia on Monday proposed drafting back-up plans to halt the flow of migrants to Western Europe through the Balkans, in effect ring-fencing Greece, if attempts to limit the numbers of migrants from Turkey to Greece failed.

“I will fight with all my strength on Thursday and Friday for the EU-Turkey agenda as the right way to tackle this,” Merkel said.

Netanyahu said combating Islamist militants in the Middle East was essential to stopping the flow of refugees.

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“If Israel didn’t exist, the entire Western part of the Middle East would be flooded by the forces of extremist Islam, and with this flood many additional millions would flow into Europe. Israel is the protective wall of Western civilisation in the heart of the Middle East,” he said.

Germany feels duty bound to support Israel, due largely to the legacy of the Holocaust, but as bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians persists into a fifth month, Merkel struck a relatively downbeat tone on prospects for peace.

“As a member of the EU, Germany is trying hard to pursue a realistic approach,” said Merkel.

“Now is undeniably not the time to make a major step forward but we can achieve improvements here and there and we agreed Germany will help in terms of financial support,” she said.

She also said that while Israel and Germany have different views on a sanctions-ending nuclear deal between world powers including Germany and Israel’s arch foe Iran, there was a limit to how friendly Germany could be with Tehran.

“We have made it very clear that there cannot be friendly relations with Iran as long as Iran has not recognised Israel’s right to exist,” she said.

Additional reporting by Joseph Nasr and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Writing by Noah Barkin and Madeline Chambers; Editing by Hugh Lawson