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

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    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.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora