BERLIN - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday it was "regrettable" that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied her foreign minister a meeting after the diplomat held talks with rights groups.
Merkel's spokesman said that talks with non-governmental organizations were common during foreign travel and should not set off a rift between allies.
"The chancellor finds it regrettable that a meeting between Foreign Minister (Sigmar) Gabriel and Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Netanyahu did not take place," he told reporters at a regular government briefing.
"It should not be problematic for foreign visitors to meet with critical representatives of civil society."
Netanyahu called off the planned meeting Tuesday with Gabriel after the German diplomat decided to go ahead with talks with Israeli rights groups Breaking The Silence and B´Tselem, saying he won't see visiting diplomats who meet groups "that slander (Israeli) soldiers and seek to put our soldiers on trial as war criminals."
Netanyahu's rare move marked an affront against one of Israel's closest international partners.
Due to its historical responsibility as the perpetrator of the Holocaust that killed six million Jews, Germany has not only been a staunch ally of Israel but has also been cautious about openly criticizing the Jewish state.
But Netanyahu has irked Berlin by pressing on with settlement building in the Palestinian territories despite repeated warnings from world powers that it would harm any prospects of peace.
Merkel had already in February postponed annual bilateral consultations after her government questioned Israel's commitment to a two-state solution in the Middle East.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.