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Uproar in Germany over Leopard tanks in Syria

January 23, 2018

Germany's government has faced a slew of criticism over German-made tanks that Turkey deployed in its push into Syria. Some politicians have called for an immediate halt to arms exports to Turkey and nixing a key deal.

A Leopard 2A4 tank in Turkey
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/XinHua

Opposition politicians in Germany responded with outrage to photos of German-made Leopard tanks being used by the Turkish army in their Syrian offensive. The intervention, which entered its fourth day on Tuesday, is unpopular with the German public.

"With Turkey's actions [in Syria], we are at the point where we have to say 'stop' — this is no longer a war we should play any part in," Stefan Liebich, an MP from the Left Party, told DW. He called on Germany to halt all exports to Ankara and end its involvement in Syria.

Agnieszka Brugger, a lawmaker and defense expert for Germany's Green Party, said, "the German government must not look away again and needs to clearly state its position on the Turkish military offensive against Kurds in Syria."

Read more: NATO allies clash as Turkey attacks US-backed Kurds in Syria

She also slammed Berlin's manner of dealing with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying that the course set by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel was a "disastrous failure."

"An immediate halt to all arms exports to Turkey is long overdue," Brugger told the Heilbronner Stimme newspaper.

Read more: Kurdish-dominated SDF accuses Turkey of backing 'IS' with Syria assault

Leopard 2A4 tanks in Turkey
Turkey has bought more than 750 German tanks since the 1980sImage: picture-alliance/dpa/XinHua

Tank upgrades to be canceled?

The criticism comes at an awkward moment for Germany's top officials, as Berlin recently engaged in a tentative rapprochement with Ankara after a deterioration in bilateral ties. Part of the thaw resulted from a deal pushed by German Foreign Minister Singmar Gabriel to provide Turkish tanks with better mine-protection gear. Other upgrades were reportedly also in store for hundreds of German-made tanks used by the Turkish army.

But politicians from Angela Merkel's CDU party called on Gabriel to halt the deal after the publication of photos showing Leopards on the ground in Syria. Norbert Röttgen, who chairs the Bundestag's foreign policy committee, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung daily that the Turkish attack was a violation of international law.

Read more: US tells Turkey to show 'restraint' with Syria Kurds

Röttgen said it was "completely obvious" that Germany could not provide Turkey with tank upgrades at such a time.

Silence in Berlin

Germany has yet to condemn Ankara's offensive, despite Gabriel calling his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday to share his "concern" about escalation and possible humanitarian consequences.

German officials have so far refused to provide details on the apparent Leopard deployment. A defense ministry spokesman said it was not yet clear when the pictures were taken, while foreign ministry officials said the situation remained unclear. A spokesman dealing with weapons exports in the economy ministry was equally tight-lipped.

"Except for the images shown in the media, which you all know about, we do not have any information about the use of Leopard tanks," he said.

amp, dj/ncy (dpa, AFP, Reuters)