How will Syrian border towns react to Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring?

A Turkish military convoy is pictured in Kilis near the Turkish-Syrian border, as Ankara launches Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria on Wednesday afternoon. (Reuters)
Updated 12 October 2019

How will Syrian border towns react to Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring?

  • Turkish F-16 jets hit targets in Ras Al-Ain, with Syrian Democratic Forces their main target

ANKARA: Turkish troops and the Syrian National Army launched Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria on Wednesday afternoon.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said its aim is to “prevent the creation of a terror corridor across the southern border and to bring peace to the area.” Turkish armed forces are hoping to establish a safe zone extending 32 km into Syrian territory.

Turkish F-16 jets hit targets in Ras Al-Ain, with the Syrian-Kurdish YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) their main objective.

Ankara opposes the YPG over its ties with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a violent insurgency against the Turkish state for decades. But the YPG has been a key ally of the US in the fight against Daesh. This week, however, the White House announced it was withdrawing special forces from the area ahead of the Turkish operation.

Now the big question is how residents of the Syrian border towns of Tal Abyad and Ras Al-Ain, which will be among the first targets, will react.

The YPG captured Tal Abyad — an Arab-majority town located to the north of Raqqa near the Turkish border — from Daesh in 2015 by the YPG. The fact that the area is predominantly Arab means that the first phase of the operation there is more likely to meet with the residents’ approval, according to experts. 

The Tal Abyad district belongs to Kurdish canton of Kobane, but is populated by a number of different tribes, in long-established separate zones. The Kurdish minority is settled in the western part of the area.

Four years ago, Amnesty International claimed that the YPG was conducting an ethnic-cleansing campaign against Arabs in some villages of Tal Abyad, while there are still complaints from the local Arabs that the YPG is trying to “Kurdify” the residents through school curricula and the confiscation of properties.

Ammar Hamou, a Jordan-based Syrian journalist, said that people to the east of the Euphrates are divided in their opinions of the operation, but that the majority of Arabs support it.

FASTFACT

Turkish armed forces are hoping to establish a safe zone extending 32 km into Syrian territory.

“As for how the people see the Free Army and Turkey, unfortunately, many consider Turkey’s move an occupation and are afraid of the ruthless military operation, especially since there was a bad experience in Afrin,” he told Arab News, referring to the ongoing Operation Olive Branch, conducted by the Turkish Armed Forces and the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army in Syria’s majority-Kurdish Afrin district.

According to Hamou, if Turkey is able to ensure that there are no human-rights violations by its forces or the Syrian National Army, then locals may accept the process.

“The success of the safe zone is Turkey's responsibility, and it is a difficult test,” he said. “Returning refugees from the east of the Euphrates to the region will be welcomed by the people, but the return of Syrians from other areas such as Homs and Damascus is a demographic change.”

Ankara’s draft plan for a construction project in the area is focused on building 200,000 houses in the safe zone in northeast Syria, which includes Tal Abyad, in order to settle around 1 million Syrian refugees who are currently hosted in Turkish territories.

There is a significant number of Arab refugees from Tal Abyad currently living in Turkey and they are eager to return to their homeland with the help of Ankara’s operation. The tribal system still predominates among the Arab communities in the zone, with tribal leaders maintaining a level of authority over the residents.

Galip Dalay, visiting scholar at the University of Oxford, said the Arab tribes in Tal Abyad and Ras Al-Ain will likely be calculating which side is most likely to win.

“Some local groups who were previously cooperating with the YPG could now side with the Turks, if they think the Turkish army will (prevail). Their pragmatic reasoning will be determinant,” he told Arab News.

In Jays, the main tribe in Tal Abyad, the Bou Assaf clan works closely with the YPG, while two other clans — Jamilah and Bou Jarada — oppose it. There are also a number of Turkmen tribes, who, obviously, are in favor of Turkey.The symbolic timing of the operation is also telling: On Oct. 9, 1998, Syria put the imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, on a plane to Moscow, and he was arrested in Kenya a year later.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Program at the Washington Institute, said that Turkish troops are deliberately targeting a narrow belt along the Syrian border stretching from Tal Abyad to Ras Al-Ayn, as it is an Arab-majority area. In other words, he said, this is not a Turkish invasion of major Kurdish areas, but a Turkish invasion of Arab areas controlled by Kurds. He added that the “face” of the Turkish incursion will have an Arab component, consisting mainly of Arabs from the area.

“Therefore, Turkish troops will be welcomed more than they would be if they went into Kobane or Kurdish-majority areas along the border,” he said. “Some of the residents of this Arab area were driven out when Daesh took over, and many others were driven out when YPG took control, and they were all forced into Turkey.”


Algerian president, 75, self isolates as pandemic spreads

Updated 24 October 2020

Algerian president, 75, self isolates as pandemic spreads

  • Tebboune is self isolating because some officials in “upper ranks of the government” are sick with COVID-19
  • “I assure you, my brothers and sisters, that I am well and healthy and that I continue my work,” he said

ALGIERS: Algeria’s 75-year-old President Abdelmadjid Tebboune is self isolating because some officials in “upper ranks of the government” are sick with COVID-19, he said in a Tweet on Saturday.
Tebboune took office in December in an election that came amidst months of mass protests which forced his predecessor Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power after 20 years.
“I assure you, my brothers and sisters, that I am well and healthy and that I continue my work,” he said, saying his decision was taken on the advice of medical staff.
The global pandemic struck Algeria’s economy as it faced long-term challenges posed by the decline of the oil and gas revenues that finance its historically lavish state spending.
So far, Algeria has officially confirmed more than 55,000 cases of the coronavirus with nearly 2,000 deaths.
Though the pandemic forced an end to the weekly mass protest marches through Algiers and other cities that lasted for more than a year, the political challenges remain.
Tebboune has pushed for changes to Algeria’s referendum to limit presidential terms while expanding the powers of the parliament and judiciary.
However, many people in the leaderless protest movement believe their core goals of replacing the old ruling elite and forcing the army to stay out of politics remain unmet.
Algerians will vote in a referendum on the new constitution on Nov. 1, with Tebboune and the country’s powerful army generals seeking a high turnout in order to turn a page on the protests.