News / Middle East

    Turkey Urges Safe Passage for N. Syria Refugees

    Internally displaced Syrians line up to receive blankets near the Bab al-Salam crossing, across from Turkey's Kilis province, on the outskirts of the northern border town of Azaz, Syria, Feb. 6, 2016.
    Internally displaced Syrians line up to receive blankets near the Bab al-Salam crossing, across from Turkey's Kilis province, on the outskirts of the northern border town of Azaz, Syria, Feb. 6, 2016.

    Turkish officials want coalition backing to secure a strip of territory 10 kilometers deep on the Syrian side of the border around the town of Azaz to protect tens of thousands of displaced civilians, and avoid having to admit them into Turkey. Officials, however, say they are getting little support for the idea from coalition partners such as the United States.

    Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan said Wednesday such a safe zone would also help prevent attempts to “change the demographic structure” of the area, a reference to Kurdish forces who have exploited a week-long Assad offensive to grab several villages and towns near the border with Turkey from rebel militias, including some backed by the U.S.

    Turkish officials accuse the Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, of seeking a “demographic change” in northern Syria by displacing Turkmen and Sunni Arab communities. The YPG denies this, but has made little secret of its wish to unite Kurdish cantons along the border.

    Turkey is coming under increasing pressure from Western governments and aid agencies to open the border and admit civilians who have fled heavy fighting in Syria's northern Aleppo countryside. Fears are mounting for civilians crowded near the border. Relief workers say there is neither enough food to go around for them nor tents.

    “We keep asking the Turkish government to admit them, but we just get stonewalled,” a British official told VOA.

    "What we want is to create a secure strip, including Azaz, 10 kilometers deep inside Syria and this zone should be free from clashes,” Akdoğan told AHaber television.

    'Safe strip '

    The proposal is a slimmed-down version of a much larger haven in northern Syria the Turks lobbied the U.S.-led coalition for last summer. Western diplomats say there is little appetite for a “safe strip” around Azaz, saying it would require coalition warplanes to patrol and protect it, something Washington has made clear it is not prepared to do for fear of being drawn into direct confrontation with both Russian and Syrian regime jets.

    Akdoğan warned another 600,000 people could flee to the Turkish border. There are conflicting estimates from relief organizations and Western governments about how many displaced civilians are sheltering near the border. They range from around 50,000 to more than 100,000.

    A senior Russian diplomat Wednesday also dismissed the idea of a haven and no-fly zones proposed earlier this week by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said in remarks reported by the Interfax news agency that any no-fly zone would need to be approved by the Syrian government and endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.

    But a Turkish official told VOA that there are indications Russia may support the idea of a “safe strip” at peace talks next week in Geneva.  The official, who asked not to be named, said Moscow may accept the idea because it means Russia can duck the problem of what to do with tens of thousands of displaced civilians.

    In an interview Wednesday with Reuters, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, said there is no consensus within the coalition about sending a ground force in to Syria, another key Ankara demand.

    “Some countries like us, Saudi Arabia and some other western European countries have said that a ground operation is necessary ... but to expect this only from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar is neither right nor realistic," he told the Reuters news agency. 

    Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have said they are ready to send ground forces as part of an international coalition against the Islamic State terror group, but in concert with the United States.

    U.S. officials fear such a force would be quickly drawn into the civil war raging in Syria.

    “If such an operation is to take place, it has to be carried out jointly,” Çavuşoğlu added.

    He said such an operation had not been seriously debated. “The coalition has not given this ground operation issue serious debate. There were opponents, and there were those who weren't going to take part but expressed a desire for Turkey or another country doing it,” he added.

    FILE - Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
    FILE - Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

    Pessimism about peace talks

    Çavuşoğlu held out little hope for U.N.-brokered peace talks set to resume Feb. 25 in Geneva, saying, “One needs to be realistic. While bombs are falling from the sky and people are being massacred under the pressure of the regime or are being starved, the talks cannot be very fruitful.”

    The Turkish foreign minister said considerable differences remain between the U.S. and Turkey over the role Kurdish fighters are playing. On Sunday the United States called on the YPG to stop using the current circumstances to seize additional territory in the northern Aleppo countryside.

    The United States has called for Turkey to display “reciprocal restraint” by ceasing shelling of YPG positions in northern Syria, according to White House officials. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded angrily to calls for his country to halt its cross-border shelling of Kurdish positions in Syria, saying Ankara "has no such plans." Addressing local officials Wednesday, Erdogan also said Turkey would not allow the Syrian Kurdish forces to establish a stronghold at the Syria-Turkey border.

    Turkey fears the Kurds are determined to unite their canton of Afrin with the town of Kobani and further east to create a contiguous Kurdish state along its long southern border, a move that could encourage Kurdish separatists in Turkey.

    You May Like

    Clinton, Kaine Project Optimism in First Joint Campaign Event

    Kaine, a moderate, has potential to attract voters repelled by Donald Trump and those who may have a hard time fully embracing Clinton

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: dutchnational
    February 17, 2016 2:14 PM
    The SDF might accept two small enclaves from the border to the cities of Azaz and Yarablus, but not a continuous strip of 10 kms along the whole border between Azaz and Yarablus.

    Likely conditions would be not turkish nationals and military in those enclaves, no heavy weapons, a peace keeping force of maybe US special forces, no more turkish blockade of Rojava and aid for reconstruction.

    by: Anonymous
    February 17, 2016 12:17 PM
    Turkey wants to maintain the supply line from Turkey to ISIS and AQ.

    by: Amin from: Texas
    February 17, 2016 10:59 AM
    It is high time for Turkey & Saudi Arabia to stop thinking that we are all fools. If you really care about the Syrian people and not just your extremist, sit down and advance the ceasefire talks. It is the opposition that left the latest talks in Geneva under pressure from the Saudis. I see the Turks wailing as they see their chance to overthrow Assad evaporating and nothing else.

    by: Alice from: Canada
    February 17, 2016 10:51 AM
    Turkey has the second largest military in NATO and can do its own dirty work in Syria if it cares to. Turkey wants to entice NATO into a land war is Syria but NATO should not get anymore involved than it already is and even that level of involvement is a mistake. This Turkish government is a liability to NATO and has no business being part of the alliance.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    February 17, 2016 1:10 PM
    Truth be told... If the Turks really needed a safe haven for the terrorist groups they support that are fleeing from the Russians and Syrian army, (and the migrants), it would be safer and far better to set up a protected no fly zone in Turkey on their side of the Syrian border, because the Russians and Syrian army wouldn't ever dare attack them (or their terrorist allies) in a NATO protected country? .. But that isn't what the Turks want, is it? ..

    The Turks want the terrorists in Syria to wage Jihad war on the Kurds and Syrian government, don't they? .. But like Murphy (of Murphy's law) always said, "Hope for the best, and prepare for the worst" .. and when your friends start ignoring you, maybe it's time to reconsider what you're trying to do?

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora