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Erdogan and Scholz air deep differences over Israel-Hamas war during Berlin meeting

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday aired deep differences over the war between Israel and Hamas as the Turkish leader made a brief and tensely anticipated visit to Berlin.

Erdogan was invited to visit Germany months ago after his reelection, but recent weeks have been marked by discomfort in Berlin over his increasingly strident stance against Israel.

Turkey has long been viewed as an awkward but essential partner in Germany, home to more than 3 million people with Turkish roots. It’s a NATO ally that is also important in efforts to control the flow of refugees and migrants to Europe, an issue on which Scholz faces intense domestic pressure, but there have been frequent tensions in recent years.

Most recently, a chasm has opened between the countries’ stances on events following Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel.

Germany is a staunch ally of Israel and has opposed calls for a ceasefire, while pushing for aid to civilians in Gaza, advocating “humanitarian pauses” and seeking to keep open channels of communication with other countries in the region to prevent the conflict from spreading.

Erdogan this week called Israel a “terrorist state” intent on destroying Gaza with all of its residents. He described Hamas militants as “resistance fighters” trying to protect their lands and people. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

Those and similar comments have appalled politicians across the spectrum in Germany. Scholz has described Erdogan's accusations against Israel as "absurd.”

“It's no secret that we have, in parts, very different views on the current conflict,” Scholz said at a brief news conference alongside Erdogan before their talks. But “particularly at difficult moments, we need to speak directly to each other.”

“Hamas' attack means that Israel must protect itself and must be able to defend itself,” he said. “It cannot remain the case that a terror organization that rules this region undertakes such activities from there again and again with unbelievable military force. That must end, and that is an aim that one must support — we do, in any case.”

At the same time, Scholz said it is important to “do everything to keep the number of civilian victims as small as possible,” and stressed that “the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza also depresses us.”

Scholz said that Turkey and Germany share fears of a wider “conflagration” in the region and would discuss how to prevent one.

While Scholz again advocated repeated “pauses” in the fighting, Erdogan said: “If we can establish a humanitarian cease-fire together with Germany, we will have the opportunity to save the region from this ring of fire."

“As of now, 13,000 Palestinian children, women and elderly have been killed," he said. "There is almost no place named Gaza anymore, everything has been destroyed.”

Erdogan suggested that Germany was unable to criticize Israel because of the Holocaust.

“I speak freely because we do not owe Israel anything. If we were indebted, we could not talk so freely," he said. “Those who are indebted cannot talk freely. We did not go through the Holocaust, and we are not in such a situation.”

Israel recalled its diplomats from Turkey last month after Erdogan accused Israel of committing war crimes. Turkey later also recalled its ambassador from Israel.

Another possible source of tension emerged ahead of Friday's visit when Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler said Turkey plans to purchase 40 Eurofighter Typhoon jets, but Germany was impeding the sale of the warplanes produced by Germany, the UK, Spain and Italy.

Guler told members of the Turkish parliament's defence committee that Spain and the UK favoured selling the jets to Turkey and were working to persuade Germany.

“Germany can sell them or not sell them," Erdogan said Friday. “Is Germany the only country that produces warplanes? We can procure these from many other places.”

Scholz didn't address the issue, and other German officials had no immediate comment.