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.
 


Initial investigations point to negligence as cause of Beirut blast

Updated 17 min 40 sec ago

Initial investigations point to negligence as cause of Beirut blast

BEIRUT: Initial investigations indicate years of inaction and negligence over the storage of highly explosive material in Beirut port caused the blast that killed over 100 people on Tuesday, an official source familiar with the findings said.
The prime minister and presidency said on Tuesday that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures.
"It is negligence," the official source told Reuters, adding that the storage safety issue had been before several committees and judges and "nothing was done" to issue an order to remove or dispose of the highly combustible material.
The source said a fire had started at warehouse 9 of the port and spread to warehouse 12, where the ammonium nitrate was stored.
Tuesday's explosion was the most powerful ever suffered by Beirut, a city is still scarred by civil war three decades ago and reeling from a deep financial crisis rooted in decades of corruption and economic mismanagement.
Badri Daher, Director General of Lebanese Customs, told broadcaster LBCI on Wednesday that customs had sent six documents to the judiciary warning that the material posed a danger.
"We requested that it be re-exported but that did not happen. We leave it to the experts and those concerned to determine why," Daher said.
Another source close to a port employee said a team that inspected the ammonium nitrate six months ago warned that if it was not moved it would "blow up all of Beirut".
According to two documents seen by Reuters, Lebanese Customs had asked the judiciary in 2016 and 2017 to ask the "concerned maritime agency" to re-export or approve the sale of the ammonium nitrate, removed from the a cargo vessel, Rhosus, and deposited in warehouse 12, to ensure port safety.
One of the documents cited similar requests in 2014 and 2015.
"A local and international investigation needs to be conducted into the incident, given the scale and the circumstances under which these goods were brought into the ports," said Ghassan Hasbani, former deputy prime minister and a member of the Lebanese Forces party.
Shiparrested.com, an industry network dealing with legal cases, had said in a 2015 report that the Rhosus, sailing under a Moldovan flag, docked in Beirut in September 2013 when it had technical problems while sailing from Georgia to Mozambique with 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate.
It said that, upon inspection, the vessel was forbidden from sailing and shortly afterwards it was abandoned by its owners, leading to various creditors coming forward with legal claims.
"Owing to the risks associated with retaining the ammonium nitrate on board the vessel, the port authorities discharged the cargo onto the port's warehouses," it added.