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,”