Turkey unveils safe zone rebuilding project amid criticism

Turkey unveils safe zone  rebuilding project amid criticism
Turkish army tanks make their way toward the Syrian border town of Jarablus, Syria. (Reuters/File)
Updated 28 September 2019

Turkey unveils safe zone rebuilding project amid criticism

Turkey unveils safe zone  rebuilding project amid criticism
  • With the project, Ankara targets return of 1 million Syrian refugees who are currently hosted in Turkish territory

ANKARA: As Ankara presses Washington to establish a safe zone in northeastern Syria by the end of September, the Turkish presidency unveiled on Friday the details of a safe zone rebuilding project. While the plan is praised by some experts as a move to create decent conditions for the voluntary return of Syrian refugees, others consider it an attempt of Syrian demographic engineering.
With the project, Turkey targets the return of 1 million Syrian refugees who are currently hosted in Turkish territories. Turkey will hope to build some 200,000 residential buildings as well as police, hospital, government and school facilities. About 140 villages with an estimated 5,000 inhabitants as well as 10 districts hosting about 30,000 residents will be constructed.
In each village, there will be 1,000 houses, two mosques, two schools with 16 classrooms, a youth center and a sports facility. Each household will be provided with an acre of field to conduct agricultural works. The cost of the project is expected to be around $25.9 billion. In the meantime, Turkish F-16 jets were carrying out flights east of the Euphrates over Syria as part of Operation Inherent Resolve against Daesh — seen by some experts as a show of determination by the Turkish military in initiating its plans in the region.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly signaled since early September that if the safe zone in the northern part of Syria is not initiated, Turkey may launch a unilateral operation into Syria to take back border areas from the US-allied Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara considers a threat to its territorial integrity.
According to Yusuf Erim, an Istanbul-based political analyst, refugees cannot be forced to return home, it must be voluntary, and the only way for Syrian refugees to return their homeland voluntarily is to provide them with security and decent conditions.
“This project is not just about building houses, it is about building hope,” he told Arab News. “With residences, health, education, government and law enforcement buildings, this project checks off all the boxes needed for strong governance. It will bring a much needed normalization to the region and support the political solution process. Governance and normalization are the strongest weapons in preventing a Daesh revival,” he added. Erim said the unveiling of the safe zone rebuilding project also has a political meaning: “It is definitely a signal to Washington saying ‘either get on board or get out of the way.’ Turkey wants stability and security on its borders and Ankara has made it very clear that it will not tolerate any more delays.”
However, Nicholas Heras, Middle East security fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, does not think that the safe zone plan is a serious proposal.
“Erdogan is hiding the fact that this safe zone scheme would require the mass displacement of people already present in northern and eastern Syria,” he told Arab News.
“There are approximately 5 million people in northern and eastern Syria, with at least a million people displaced from other areas of Syria. There are already significant needs for the people already present in northern and eastern Syria that need to be addressed, never mind adding another million refugees.” Ankara’s plan has been criticized by some experts over the concerns that it could bring about a demographic change to these areas. For Heras, the Turkish proposal to establish a safe zone is a “Trojan horse to embark on a project of demographic engineering at the expense of the Kurdish population of northern and eastern Syria.”
The long-awaited meeting between Erdogan and US President Donald Trump in New York this week did not take place.
Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said that after failing to secure a meeting with Trump, Erdogan is increasing the pressure on the US administration.
“A unilateral incursion by Ankara will most probably backfire and damage both US and Turkish interests. If Turkey needs the international community to fund this ambitious plan, it will need to have a rather inclusive approach, unilaterally forcing a demographic shift will not necessarily secure and stabilize the Turkish-Syrian border,” he told Arab News.
 


Egypt: Iranian nuclear issue should be linked to its regional interference

Egypt: Iranian nuclear issue should be linked to its regional interference
Updated 45 min 21 sec ago

Egypt: Iranian nuclear issue should be linked to its regional interference

Egypt: Iranian nuclear issue should be linked to its regional interference
  • Cairo’s ambassador to the US calls for cooperation with the new administration on range of issues
  • Zahran: Many opportunities for cooperation between Egypt and the US in various fields under new administration

CAIRO: Egypt believes that the Iranian nuclear issue is not the only problem with regard to Iran and its position in the region, according to Motaz Zahran, Cairo’s ambassador in Washington. Tehran’s interference and its efforts to destroy the assets of Arab countries throughout the region is another issue that must be confronted, he said.
Zahran said in a virtual interview with the National Council for US-Arab Relations that there is an opportunity for cooperation with the new US administration in light of the Iranian interference in various conflicts in the region, whether in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq or Yemen, which led to the deepening of their problems.
“The Iranian nuclear issue should not be dealt with separately from Iranian interference in all regional conflicts, and there are discussions between Egypt and the US regarding Iran, with the Republicans and the Democrats,” he added.
The ambassador said Egypt believes that there should not be any unilateral move on the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. He saw a need for the new US administration to play a constructive role in resolving the dam dispute.
There are, he said, many opportunities for cooperation between Egypt and the US in various fields under the new administration of President-elect Joe Biden.
The meeting was moderated by Ed Royce, former US representative, who chaired the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Answering a question on the storming of the Capitol building on Jan. 6, Zahran said it was sad and shocking for Egypt and the whole world, and he linked what happened in America to what Egypt witnessed when some extremist groups — mainly the Muslim Brotherhood — took advantage of large-scale demonstrations and turned them into violent protests.
He pointed out that in both nations there was a widespread national desire for unity among the people which followed the state of chaos. There are some lessons to be learned, the most important of which is that rights and freedoms, in general, are not absolute, but are linked to guaranteeing others’ rights, as well as achieving order, security and public peace.