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Germany's von der Leyen visits Incirlik

The Incirlik air base has been visited by Germany's defense minister in a test of Turkey's ban on other German politicians. Ankara-Berlin ties are tense over the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a century ago.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen flew into Incirlik, a base used by NATO nations, on Friday - nominally to visit 250 German troops running reconnaissance flights as part of the US-led fight against the "Islamic State" militia in neighboring Syria.

Ties soured last month when the German parliament described the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces as

"genocide," prompting a Turkish outcry

and counterclaims that casualties occurred on all sides during World War I.

Ahead of her visit Friday, parliamentarians across Germany's party spectrum had called on Turkey to immediately lift its ban. Von der Leyen arrived without accompanying politicians and journalists.

Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had said the "visit of non-military delegations and especially of politicians to the Incirlik base is not seen as suitable."

Last Monday, Turkey said it had approved von der Leyen's visit.

In late June, Ankara said it had barred German state secretary for defense Ralf Brauksiepe and other lawmakers, prompting some to call for an end to German deployments to Turkey.

Condolences over Istanbul attack

During Friday's tour of German facilities at Incirlik, von der Leyen (pictured above) said she had called her Turkish defense counterpart, Fikri Isik, to offer condolences after last Tuesday's terrorist attack at Istanbul's main airport.

German defense ministry spokesman Jens Flosdorff said on Friday Germany hoped that the issue of visits by its parliamentarians would be jointly resolved "as soon as possible."

At Incirlik, Germany has six Tornado surveillance jets and a tanker aircraft. They were sent there last year as part of the US-led fight against the "Islamic State" militia, which is holding swathes of Syria as well as Iraq.

Bundeswehr in der Türkei

Technicians service a Tornado at Incirlik

Germany's provision of almost 400 surveillance flights and over 800 refueling flights were highly sought-after services, von der Leyen said. The country's cooperation with international partners as well as its Turkish hosts had been "very close and trustful," she added, before traveling on to Ankara.

Visits a must, says Arnold

The Social Democrats' defense expert Rainer Arnold on Friday demanded that von der Leyen return from her further stopover in Ankara with news that the German parliamentarians could visit Bundeswehr soldiers at Incirlik in the future.

Otherwise, NATO nations would have to apply pressure on their partner Turkey, Arnold said.

The Social Democrats form part of Germany's coalition government led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose conservatives include von der Leyen.

Reuters said von der Leyen had intended to inspect the housing situation at Incirlik before finalizing a 60 million euro ($66 million) deal for Germany to build new barracks and other facilities.

ipj/kl AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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