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

  • 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.
 


Suspected arson at East Jerusalem mosque

Israeli border policemen take up position during clashes with Palestinian demonstrators at a protest against Trump's decision on Jerusalem, near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank March 9, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 January 2020

Suspected arson at East Jerusalem mosque

  • The attack had the appearance of a “price tag” attack, a euphemism for Jewish nationalist-motivated hate crimes that generally target Palestinian or Arab Israeli property

JERUSALEM: Israeli police launched a manhunt on Friday after an apparent arson attack, accompanied by Hebrew-language graffiti, at a mosque in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.
“Police were summoned to a mosque in Beit Safafa, in Jerusalem, following a report of arson in one of the building’s rooms and spraying of graffiti on a nearby wall outside the building,” a police statement said.
“A wide-scale search is taking place in Jerusalem,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP. “We believe that the incident took place overnight. We are searching for suspects.”
The spokesman would not say if police viewed it as a hate crime. The graffiti, on a wall in the mosque compound and viewed by an AFP journalist, contained the name Kumi Ori, a small settlement outpost in the north of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The Times of Israel newspaper said on Friday that the wildcat outpost “is home to seven families along with roughly a dozen extremist Israeli teens.”
“Earlier this month security forces razed a pair of illegally built settler homes in the outpost,” it reported.
All settlements on occupied Palestinian land are considered illegal under international law, but Israel distinguishes between those it has approved and those it has not.
The paper said: “A number of young settlers living there were involved in a string of violent attacks on Palestinians and (Israeli) security forces.”
Police said that nobody was injured in the mosque incident.
The attack had the appearance of a “price tag” attack, a euphemism for Jewish nationalist-motivated hate crimes that generally target Palestinian or Arab Israeli property in revenge for nationalistic attacks against Israelis or Israeli government moves against unauthorized outposts like Kumi Ori.
“This is price tag,” Israeli Arab lawmaker Osama Saadi told AFP at the scene.
“The settlers didn’t only write words, they also burned the place and they burnt a Qur’an,” said Saadi, who lives in the area.
Ismail Awwad, the local mayor, said he called the police after he found apparent evidence of arson, pointing to an empty can he said had contained petrol or some other accelerant and scorch marks in the burned room.
“The fire in the mosque burned in many straight lines which is a sign that somebody poured inflammable material,” he said.
There was damage to an interior prayer room but the building’s structure was unharmed.
In December, more than 160 cars were vandalized in the Shuafaat neighborhood of east Jerusalem with anti-Arab slogans scrawled nearby.
The slogans read “Arabs=enemies,” “There is no room in the country for enemies” and “When Jews are stabbed we aren’t silent.”
The attackers were described by a local resident as “masked settlers.”