Turkey announces new Syria border crossing

Syrians fleeing the civil war enter Turkey at Cilvegozu. Ankara has opened a new border crossing near the Syrian city of Afrin. (Getty Images)
Updated 09 November 2018
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Turkey announces new Syria border crossing

  • The new border crossing will enable the local residents of Afrin to boost their economic transactions by sending their produce directly into Turkey
  • Wealth, combined with the relative calm in the region, is expected to increase the appeal of Afrin and encourage refugees to return home

ANKARA: Ankara officially announced on Friday the opening of a new border crossing between Turkey and the northwestern Syrian city of Afrin.

The aim of this direct gate, which has been operational since Thursday, will be to increase, fasten and facilitate the supply of humanitarian and reconstruction aid to the region. It will also boost economic transactions in Afrin.

In proximity to Hamam village in the west of Jinderes, the border gate is called “Olive Branch” with reference to Turkey’s cross-border counterterrorism operation in Afrin which was conducted between January-March this year to clear the region from Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and Daesh terrorists.

Currently there are ten land and three rail custom gates between Turkey and Syria, while only seven of them are operational.

So far, Turkey’s humanitarian assistance to the region has consisted of delivery food, fruits and vegetables, drinking water, matrasses, blankets, hygiene kits, clothes, and packages of diapers to about 300,000 civilians in Afrin.

Turkey has ensured to distribution of food and personal care items to Afrin through dozens of aid distribution centers it established in the region.

Ömer Özkizilcik, analyst and editor at Suriye Gündemi (Syrian Agenda) news website, said the new Olive Branch border crossing to the Afrin region has primarily logistic and administrative reason behind its construction.

“Until now, supplies to Afrin from Turkey were usually sent via Azaz. With the new border crossing, Turkey aims to increase its ability to supply Afrin with humanitarian aids and also to accelerate Turkish reconstruction efforts into the region,” he told Arab News.

“While local councils in Euphrates Shield areas are supported by the south-eastern Gaziantep governorate of Turkey, local councils in Afrin are supported by the southern Hatay governorate. With the new opened border crossing, the Hatay governorate will firstly have a direct link to Afrin,” Ozkizilcik added.

The new border crossing will also enable the local residents of Afrin to boost their economic transactions by sending their locally produced items directly into Turkey, and will boost the regional economy, experts underline.

Wealth, combined with the relative calm in the region, is expected to increase the appeal of Afrin and to encourage needy refugees for returning home.

According to Ozkizilcik, another perspective behind the border crossing is the possibility for Syrian refugees inside Turkey to cross directly into their hometowns in the Afrin region under the supervision of Turkish authorities.

“All in all, Turkey is further improving its influence in northern Syria,” he added.

Sinan Hatahet, an expert on Syria at Al Sharq Forum in Istanbul, thinks that this is rather an administrative decision rather than political.

“Previously the aid was passing through Kilis border gate, and now the humanitarian aid and trade flows will be directly transferred from Hatay to Afrin. It could incur faster, quicker and more lucrative trade flows,” he told Arab News.

Bedir Mulla Rashid, a Syrian analyst from Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said the border gate would also help meeting the logistical needs for the troops and officers deployed in the region.

“Since it is near to Jindires it will be a chance for more exchange of goods inside Syria between areas of Olive Branch operation and Idlib province. And Afrin city local council is performing better after electing Said Sulaiman,” Rashid told Arab News.

According to Rashid, since the announcement came from the Turkish Trade Minister, it means that more efforts will be done to increase trade in the area in general especially in terms of agricultural products and textile.

“Afrin is a rich area in terms of olive and grain. The relative safety of Afrin region during the civil war also encouraged many cloth manufacturers in Aleppo to move their products to Afrin. And now they can either do their trade with Turkish market or export through it to other regional markets,” he added.

However, Rashid does not think the opening of this border gate will trigger a significant returnee wave from Turkey back to Afrin for now.

“Till now many of groups linked to Free Syrian Army (FSA) are based in the cities and villages of Afrin, and some of them are doing some violations like imposing high taxes on goods and movement of people,” he said.

But, Rashid added, if the security situation is improved and FSA groups are pulled out of Afrin, it will for sure make some changes in the returnee trend of Syrian refugees back home,”


Houthis mobilize to fight ahead of UN envoy’s visit

Pro-government drive in an industrial district in the eastern outskirts of the port city Hodeidah. (AFP)
Updated 45 min 47 sec ago
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Houthis mobilize to fight ahead of UN envoy’s visit

  • Dozens of Houthis put on a show of strength on the outskirts of Sanaa on Saturday
  • UN special envoy Martin Griffiths said on Friday that he plans to travel to Sanaa in the coming week

SANAA: Iran-backed Houthi militias have said they are ready to mobilize more fighters to the frontline despite a lull in battleground Hodeidah, as the UN envoy prepares to visit the country to boost peace efforts.

Dozens of Houthis put on a show of strength on the outskirts of Sanaa on Saturday, apparently getting ready to head toward Hodeidah, a Red Sea city home to a vital port.

Men, some of whom looked very young, were lining up with bandoliers around their shoulders and rifles in their hands, chanting Houthi slogans.

Residents said on Sunday that relative calm had held in Hodeidah city since pro-government forces announced a pause in their offensive last week amid international calls for a cease-fire and UN-led peace efforts.  They added, however, that they remain on edge.

Meanwhile, coalition fighter jets on Sunday carried out a series of strikes targeting Houthi positions west of Marib. The strikes, which were accompanied by shelling, came after the Iranian-supported militia launched ballistic missiles toward the city of Marib. Coalition forces successfully intercepted the missiles, Yemeni army media said.

UN special envoy Martin Griffiths said on Friday that he plans to travel to Sanaa in the coming week to finalize arrangements for peace talks to take place in Sweden soon.

Hameed Assem, a member of the militia delegation expected to take part in the negotiations, said that Houthis will continue to mobilize if UN efforts for peace fail to materialize.

Pro-government forces on Wednesday suspended their 12-day offensive in Hodeidah.

Griffiths said on Friday that both the government and the Houthis have shown a “renewed commitment” to work on a political solution and have given “firm assurances” that they will attend the talks. No date has yet been set.

(AFP)