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Scholz addresses 'differences' with Erdogan on Israel

November 17, 2023

Turkish President Erdogan has criticized Israel's offensive in Gaza, while calling Hamas "liberators." German Chancellor Scholz has called the comments "absurd." The two leaders are meeting in Berlin for talks.

Erdogan besucht Scholz in Berlin
Scholz and Erdogan have several hot-button issues on their agendaImage: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday.

This is the Turkish leader's first visit to Germany since 2020. He arrived at a military airport on Friday afternoon for a visit that is expected to last only several hours.

In a joint press conference on Friday evening, German Chancellor Scholz stressed that Israel's right to self-defense must "not be called into question," whereas Erdogan continued his sharp criticism of Israel's ongoing offensive in Gaza, condemning "shooting hospitals [and] killing children."

Scholz said it was "no secret"  that he and the Turkish president had "very different views on the conflict."

Berlin: Erdogan reiterates criticism of Israel war strategy

"This is precisely why our talks are important, especially in difficult moments we need direct dialogue with each other," Scholz said. 

The chancellor added that "Israel's right to exist is irrefutable" for Germany.

"There is no place for antisemitism in our country, regardless of whether it is politically motivated or religious, whether it comes from the right or the left, whether it has grown here for centuries or comes into the country from outside," he said. 

Erdogan added that if Germany joined Turkey in calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, there is a chance it could be achieved.

Disagreements on Israel-Hamas war

The Israel-Hamas war has been a major point of contention between Germany and Turkey. 

Erdogan has heavily criticized Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip, and accused Israel of committing war crimes.

Israeli authorities have said the offensive aims to root out Hamas in Gaza in response to the October 7 terror attacks.

Fighting in Gaza clouds Erdogan's visit to Germany

The Turkish president has also referred to Hamas militants as "liberators." The group is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, Germany, the United States and the EU, along with other countries. 

Scholz on Tuesday called Erdogan's accusations "absurd," adding that Israel is a democracy and "a country that is bound to human rights and international law and acts accordingly."

Before meeting with Scholz, Erdogan met with German President Frank Walter-Steinmeier before talks with the chancellor.

A spokesperson for German President Steinmeier said he had stressed Germany's position, which highlights "Israel's right to exist as well as its right to defend itself" during talks with Erdogan. 

What else is expected during the talks?

Scholz said ahead of the meeting that Sweden's accession to the NATO military alliance would also likely come up in talks with the Turkish president.

Between NATO and Hamas: What is Erdogan's aim?

Turkey's government had raised objections to Sweden's bid to join NATO because it allowed residency for groups Ankara has classified as terrorists, including Kurdish groups and people allegedly tied to a failed coup attempt in 2016. Erdogan has since dropped the objections, but parliament has yet to ratify a bill for the approval of Swedish NATO membership.

Also likely to be discussed is migration. The EU considers Turkey to be a key ally in efforts to stem arrivals at the bloc's external borders.

Turkey is set to hold municipal elections early next year. Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) hopes to retake the capital, Ankara, and the most populous city of Istanbul.

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rmt,sdi/wmr (Reuters, dpa)