Instability in Syria's Idlib may trigger new wave of refugees to West

TUĞÇE KILIÇ
ANKARA
Published 13.03.2019 00:06
Syrian children slide down the collapsed roof of a bombarded school in Idlib province, Jan. 30, 2019.
Syrian children slide down the collapsed roof of a bombarded school in Idlib province, Jan. 30, 2019.

Ankara has warned that a possible flow of refugees from Idlib, which has been suffering from Syrian regime attacks, would deeply affect Europe

Ankara stated Tuesday that if Syrian regime attacks and instability continue in Idlib, a city that hosts 3.5 million people in northwestern Syria, it will prompt another refugee flow that will affect Turkey and EU countries. "A refugee wave caused by an offensive in Idlib will not only affect Turkey but the whole world including the EU. Therefore, stopping regime attacks and establishing security in the region carry utmost significance," the Ministry of Defense said yesterday in a press briefing. The ministry stressed that despite the provocations, Russian and Turkish forces launched their first coordinated patrols in Idlib, which were welcomed by the local people. The next coordinated patrols will be carried out when circumstances allow. It added that details for Russian-Turkish joint patrols in Idlib are still being discussed.

The Sochi agreement was reached on Sept. 17 by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. The deal established a cease-fire in the Idlib region, which is the last stronghold of the opposition, on the condition that heavy arms and extremist groups would withdraw from the region. Prior to the agreement, the Assad regime was signaling an expansive military operation in Idlib, sparking fears in the international community of a new humanitarian crisis. In line with the agreement, the first Russian-Turkish coordinated patrols were carried out on March 8.

However, despite the deal, the regime attacks on the last opposition enclave have been escalating for some time now, killing more than three dozen civilians with many others injured and fueling concerns that a new crisis will erupt. In case of a crisis, a new refugee crisis is not only a concern for Turkey, but it would also have implications for Europe. It has been estimated that around 700,000 people may arrive in Turkey from where they might attempt to go to Europe.

Commenting on Turkey-U.S. relations, it was emphasized at the briefing that the biggest hurdles in the bilateral ties are the latter's cooperation with the PKK's Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG).

In relation to the Manbij road map, the ministry said that Ankara has been insisting that Washington should complete the road map, eliminating YPG elements from the northern Syrian province of Manbij before it pulls its troops out from Syria.

Turkey and the U.S. remain at odds over the latter's Syria policy, which is centered on support to the globally recognized terrorist group PKK's Syrian wing the YPG. The U.S. allied itself with the YPG to fight Daesh in Syria, but Turkey argued that using one terror group to fight another makes no sense.

In order to prevent the PKK and its extensions from tightening its grip in northeast Syria and disrupting peace efforts in the region, Turkey aims to accelerate the Manbij process that was launched in June with the U.S. As part of the deal, Turkey and the U.S. agreed to work on the withdrawal of the YPG from Manbij. The aim of the Manbij deal is to ensure security and stability in the province by eliminating the YPG terrorists, who currently control the region in northern Syria and ultimately handing the administration of the province to a body consisting of local people.

The ministry also highlighted that Turkey should control Manbij in line with the local people in order to prevent any power vacuum following the withdrawal and ensure the voluntarily return of Syrian refugees to the region, which will not be possible if the city was recaptured by regime forces. "Preparations for the operation into the east of the Euphrates are completed. The operation will be launched when it is appropriate," the ministry reiterated.

U.S. President Donald Trump's swift announcement on the withdrawal from Syria has left a range of questions in regards to Washington's

future cooperation with the YPG and the future of the Manbij deal. The bilateral talks between the countries are still continuing yet, in a bid to discuss the issues extensively, Ankara has put the third offensive in northern Syria on hold following the pullout decision while stating that the preparations for the operations are complete.

Touching upon the F-35 jet fighters deal with Washington, the ministry underscored that despite the statements and media reports, there is no problem in both the purchase and delivery of the U.S.-made F-35 fighter jets and Russian-made S-400 missile systems at the moment. The F-35 jets are due to be transported to Turkey in November while the S-400 system will be delivered in July.

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