Amid currency crisis, Ankara goes to build roads in Syria

Syrian refuges receive food on their way home at the border crossing point of Jdedeh Yabous, Syria. (AP)
Updated 15 August 2018

Amid currency crisis, Ankara goes to build roads in Syria

  • The Turkish government will build the roads in cooperation with local councils in Aleppo
  • Turkish construction companies will provide local councils with equipment needed for a fast road network, and asphalt will be brought from Turkey

ANKARA: Turkey is planning a road network to link the main cities in the Euphrates Shield area in Aleppo with its southern provinces of Gaziantep and Kilis.

The two provinces have been home to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees since the beginning of Syria’s civil war in 2011. Gaziantep is just 92 kilometers from Aleppo.

The Turkish government will build the roads in cooperation with local councils in Aleppo, with Syrian technicians and engineers expected to be hired along with Turkish engineers.

The cost of the project and its schedule have yet to be announced.

The main cities to be linked by the project in war-torn Syria are Azaz, Al-Bab, Jarablus, Mareh, Al-Rai and Akhtarin.

Turkish construction companies will provide local councils with equipment needed for a fast road network, and asphalt will be brought from Turkey.

Syria’s civil war has wreaked havoc on the country’s transport network, and some cities in the region have already been supported by Turkey in efforts to repair and upgrade road links with nearby villages.

The project will not only build social bridges between refugees and their relatives in Syria, but will also offer Turkey a new market for investments and trade, starting with basic needs such as food, clothing and construction materials.

In a similar move, Turkey’s pro-government business association MUSIAD recently announced plans to open a trade center in northern Syria to develop business and commercial opportunities in Azaz and nearby regions.

Oytun Orhan, a Syria analyst at the Ankara-based think tank ORSAM, said the project is part of a long-term vision by Ankara.

“Turkey wants to be influential in the reconstruction process of Syria. It doesn’t only aim at building its trade infrastructure, but wants to facilitate economic integration and increase the welfare of the local people,” he told Arab News.

Orhan also said that in the event of a security risk, Turkish and Free Syrian Army soldiers could be deployed through the modernized land corridor.

The project also has a humanitarian dimension with Ankara recently calling for international and regional help to manage a refugee crisis that is becoming more acute with each passing day.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Germany in late September and management of the refugee flow is expected to rank high on the agenda.

“Turkey is in regular contact with Russia, Germany and France over better handling of the refugee flow. These countries may also offer financial support to this project,” Orhan said.

Turkish and Russian authorities are preparing for “a four-party summit” on Syria to be held in early September in Istanbul. The summit will concentrate on the reconstruction of Syria and will include Turkey, Russia, Germany and France, but not Iran.

However, Ankara faces added challenges meeting the costs of the reconstruction project with the Turkish lira weakening to record low against dollar in recent days.

Considering the financial meltdown in the country, it is unclear how Ankara will be able to continue with the rebuilding of Syria. Experts believe that Turkey will lead the construction efforts, but will press for financial help from the global community.

Mete Sohtaoglu, an independent Syria analyst, said burden-sharing by other countries, as well as unlocking EU funds, are important to ease the economic costs of this project. 

“The oil production and sale in the region will help local authorities to cover the costs soon by its own resources,” he told Arab News.

“Considering the financial difficulties Turkey is going through, Ankara will mainly use the EU funds it received so far to help Turkey manage the refugee flow,” Sohtaoglu said.

The EU will also provide funding depending on the political transition in Syria, he said. 


Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

Updated 18 August 2019

Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

  • Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel

RAMALLAH: Relatives of a US congresswoman say they support her decision to decline Israel’s offer allowing her to visit them in the West Bank because the “right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions.”

Rashida Tlaib said she would not see her family, even after Israel lifted a ban on her entry, because the government had imposed restrictions on her trip.

“We totally understand her position and support her in her efforts. The right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions,” her uncle Bassam Tlaib told Arab News.

He was speaking from the family home in Beit Ur Al-Fuka, which is 3 km from the West Bank city of Ramallah, and was flanked by his elderly mother.

He said his niece had visited them many times in the past, but there had never been any conditions attached to her travel.

“She said we will meet when she can come without conditions,” Tlaib said. “One idea has been floated of flying the grandmother to the US or finding a way to have the two meetings in a third country. You know my mother is nearing 90 and it is not easy for her to travel but we are checking out all options.”

Tlaib, a Democrat, has criticized Israel’s policy toward Palestinians and had planned to make an official visit to the country.

Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel, local media reported.

But the congresswoman, who is Palestinian-American, lashed out on social media.

“I can’t allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me & use my love for my sity to bow down to their oppressive & racist policies,” she tweeted, using the word sity to refer to her grandmother. “Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in — fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.”

The NGO hosting and organizing the trip, Miftah, has been criticized by supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Hanan Ashrawi, the NGO’s founder, said her staff had organized other congressional trips. “This was the third trip we have organized, and we try to do our work professionally and seriously,” Ashrawi told Arab News. “Our very mission is to promote global dialogue and democracy.”

Ashrawi said the attacks on Miftah were unwarranted.  “Miftah has been targeted with the expressed goal of trying to discredit us even though our record is clear. We believe that they are trying to keep organizing congressional delegations within the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) monopoly, while we are trying to provide visitors with an opportunity to learn about Palestinian life under occupation and to understand the Palestinian narrative by providing opportunities for delegations to see and engage with Palestinians of all walks of life.” 

Ashrawi said Miftah had been “vetted” by the US Congress’ ethics committee. “We might not be able to bring hundreds of congress people like AIPAC, but we can bring a few and have them see, hear and interact with Palestinians.”

US President Donald Trump had called on Israel not to allow Tlaib and fellow congresswoman Ilhan Omar into Israel as admitting the two “would show great weakness.”

He tweeted that the pair “hate Israel and all Jewish people, and there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace.”