German, Turkish leaders to meet as Israel bombards Gaza

AFP , Friday 17 Nov 2023

German leaders host Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for talks Friday, in a highly controversial visit made more explosive by Erdogan's rebuke of Israel's war in the Gaza Strip.

German, Turkish leaders
File photo: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (L) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. AP


Erdogan has been increasingly critical of Israel's war, which has so far killed more than 11,500 people, many of them women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

The Turkish leader has accused Israel of committing war crimes with its bombardment and ground incursion in the Palestinian territory.

While Chancellor Olaf Scholz travelled to Israel to offer Germany's unconditional and unwavering support, Erdogan has doubled down on his defence of the Palestinian Hamas as "liberators" fighting for their land.

Erdogan's stance has sparked questions in Germany about hosting the Turkish leader, with the opposition conservatives and even the liberal FDP, a member of Scholz's coalition, urging Scholz to scrap the invitation.

But the centre-left-led government said it was all the more important to keep talking in the toughest of times.

"We have always had difficult partners whom we have to deal with," said Scholz's spokesman Steffen Hebestreit, acknowledging that it is a visit "that will be challenging given the current circumstances".

"But it's not just about telling each other what we think, it's about moving forward on numerous issues... and for that, we need these talks."

'Uncomfortable partner'

Characterised as an "uncomfortable partner" by Scholz's spokesman, Erdogan will be making his first visit to Germany since 2020, when he attended a conference on Libya in Berlin.

Scholz gave a hint of the tone at the upcoming talks as he slapped down a recent "fascism" accusation against Israel by Erdogan as "absurd".

Yet the Turkish leader ramped up his verbal attacks against Israel this week, calling it a "terror state" and saying the West was "trying to exonerate the murderers".

Ties between the two countries have always been uneasy, with Berlin recognising that getting the regional power's support was necessary to tackle thorny issues.

From mediating to get grain shipments out of Ukraine amid Russia's war to negotiating a key deal on alleviating the 2015-2016 migrant influx in Europe, the NATO member has proved to be a crucial player.

Germany is also home to the biggest Turkish community abroad, and a majority of the Turkish nationals in the country are supporters of Erdogan, including former German international footballer Mesut Ozil.

But Erdogan's fierce criticism of Israel sets him awkwardly against Germany, which has made the existence of Israel unconditional given its responsibilities over the Holocaust.

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said Erdogan did not deserve to be trusted.

"Anyone who not only denies Israel's right to exist but also actively fights against it should not a be a partner for German politicians," he told newspaper group RND.

Yet Roth, who like Scholz is a Social Democrat, said he was nevertheless in favour of the visit, which will also include a meeting between with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Erdogan sits down for dinner with the chancellor.

The discussions must be with "little fuss and little gloss but a lot of plain language," said Roth.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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