Turkey welcomes US plan for Syria ‘safe zone’

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would solve issues with a ‘spirit of alliance’ with US President Donald Trump as long as his country’s sensitivities were taken into account. (Reuters)
Updated 16 January 2019

Turkey welcomes US plan for Syria ‘safe zone’

  • Ankara ‘not targeting Kurds in a military operation in Syria’
  • Although technical details have not yet been disclosed, it will cover strategic areas such as Kobani, Tal Abyad, Ras Al-Ayn, Ayn Al-Arab and Qamishli

ANKARA: President Donald Trump, who last month announced his intention to withdraw US forces from Syria, tweeted on Sunday that the creation of a “safe zone” in the north of the country is on the horizon.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who on Monday spoke on the phone with Trump, said he responded positively to the idea. 

“Turkey will continue to do what it has to in order to solve this issue in line with the spirit of its alliance, so long as our rights and laws are respected,” Erdogan told reporters on Tuesday. “We reached a historic understanding with Trump last night.”

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, met his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar on Tuesday in Ankara. 

Dr. Magdalena Kirchner, a senior analyst at Conias Risk Intelligence in Germany, said a safe zone should prevent direct confrontation between the Turkish Army and the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), reduce the YPG’s military presence near the border, and prevent an influx of Daesh and other extremist fighters. 

“This would reduce Turkish post-US-withdrawal fears of being confronted at the border by a YPG no longer constrained by the US, or a Daesh no longer targeted by American forces,” she told Arab News. 

However, experts say it is unclear how sustainable the zone will be, and whether it can be implemented quickly. 

Although technical details have not yet been disclosed, it will cover strategic areas such as Kobani, Tal Abyad, Ras Al-Ayn, Ayn Al-Arab and Qamishli. It is as yet unknown whether Turkish troops will be allowed in the zone.  Kirchner said among the challenges is if the YPG refuses to withdraw from strategic towns such as Kobani. 

“A safe zone as described is a political win for Turkey, and could give Ankara major leverage over questions such as local governance and refugee returns,” she added.

But “the proximity to local elections in Turkey in March could limit Ankara’s patience regarding such an agreement and trigger military action nevertheless.” 

Another challenge will be maintaining the morale and commitment of YPG elements in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to continue fighting Daesh in such a scenario, as the plan for the safe zone threatens the idea of Kurdish autonomy and local governance, Kirchner said.  She expects a return to cooperation between Ankara and Damascus against Kurdish autonomy, as a strengthened central government in Syria will seek to regain full control and sovereignty over Syrian territory.

“Border control and containing YPG and PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) forces will be a key Turkish demand in any negotiations over a withdrawal of Turkish forces from northern Syria,” she said.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said he is skeptical about how the YPG can be persuaded to withdraw from what it sees as its future autonomous region to areas where there are few Kurds.

“Even if the YPG is persuaded and the plan is implemented, this will mean that the US will need to continue controlling the airspace east of the Euphrates (river) and leave behind a small force to monitor… the safe zone,” he told Arab News. 

“The US government is working on a Manbij-like plan — involving joint Turkish-American patrols — which would address Ankara’s concerns and make a Turkish operation east of the Euphrates unnecessary,” Unluhisarcikli added. 

Oubai Shahbandar, an Ankara-based defense analyst, told Arab News that a safe zone in northern Syria “will provide a sustainable security solution along Turkey’s sensitive border with Syria,” and “allow commerce and local governance to thrive.” 

It would also prevent groups such as Daesh and the PKK from re-establishing a foothold in areas they once controlled, he added. 

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin recently rejected US claims that Ankara was targeting Kurds in a planned military operation in Syria, saying the aim of such an operation would be to protect Kurds from oppression by terrorist groups. 

Shahbandar said although Turkish leaders have pledged to protect the Kurdish community, the YPG has threatened to attack Turkish forces and their Free Syrian Army (FSA) ally if they enter cities controlled by the YPG.


First government headquarters launched in Egypt’s new administrative capital

Egyptian police guard in front of the new government district in the New Administrative Capital (NAC) east of Cairo, Egypt May 2, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 1 min 43 sec ago

First government headquarters launched in Egypt’s new administrative capital

  • The establishments occupy 250,000 square meters of that area, with a total building area of ​​2 million square meters and a construction rate of 20 percent

CAIRO: Egypt has launched its first ministerial headquarters in the New Administrative Capital project, in preparation for the transfer of the most prominent government headquarters in Cairo to the new location in the coming months.

During Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly’s visit to the administrative capital, he inspected the headquarters of the Ministry of Finance, which has been furnished and equipped as a model for the rest of the ministries.

According to a statement from the Egyptian Cabinet, officials confirmed that the implementation rate of the government district had reached 87 percent and that the structure and internal buildings were fully complete. So far 234 floors, roofs and basements and 2,086 service rooms have been delivered.

The prime minister listened to an explanation from Engineering Authority of the Armed Forces officials about the executive position of the government district in the New Administrative Capital, which is located on an area of ​​1.5 million square meters.

The establishments occupy 250,000 square meters of that area, with a total building area of ​​2 million square meters and a construction rate of 20 percent. The rest of the space consists of gardens and roads.

The project includes 10 ministerial complexes with a total of 34 ministries, in addition to the Cabinet Presidency building, the Parliament building and the main axis in the middle of the ministerial buildings.

The prime minister witnessed the casting of the walls of the “L 45” floor of the Iconic Tower, the highest tower in Africa, and one of the distinctive icons of the New Capital project, which rises to about 385 meters. So far it sits at a height of 220 meters, which exceeds the height of the Cairo Tower, according to the Middle East News Agency.

Madbouly explained that the central business district will become a distinctive landmark in the new capital. He instructed the Chinese company implementing the project to complete all external construction work on the towers in late October 2021.

He revealed that the government is working to implement a new city near the New Administrative Capital in the coming period. Madbouly said that the decision on the construction of the new city will be issued soon, noting that work has started in the city as commissioned by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

“The New Administrative Capital is a model for nearly 20 new cities, whose construction is being carried out at the same level, which aims to absorb the increase in population and increase the globalized area in Egypt, preceded by proper planning,” he said.