Turkey’s offensive in northeastern Syria appears to be aimed at reaching Deir ez-Zor in order to settle millions of Syrian refugees in a larger safe zone than was originally envisioned, Nordic Monitor has learned.
According to the plan the Turkish military will establish a 20-mile-deep safe zone in northern Syria running parallel to Turkey’s border with Syria for about 300 miles. In the second phase of the plan Turkey will extend its area of control southward close to Deir ez-Zor, far beyond the proposed depth announced by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a speech at the 74th UN General Assembly in New York.
A map displayed by the state-run Anadolu news agency on the Turkish operation and the latest remarks by Turkish officials appear to confirm the plan.
The US and Russia’s Thursday’s veto of a UN Security Council statement on Turkey’s attacks and weak condemnation by the EU of the ongoing offensive revealed that Turkey may have received a green light from the international community for the first step of its operation, which has already started to change demographics of northern Syria. However, the strength of the international reaction to President Erdoğan’s possible military move towards Deir ez-Zor is unknown.
Tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians had to flee their homes after Turkish troops began a military operation in northern Syria, the UN refugee agency reported. Aid agencies warned that hundreds of thousands of people were in immediate danger from the Turkish assault. The UK-based Save the Children underlined the fact that there are 1.65 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in this area, including more than 650,000 displaced by war.
Chairman of the Turkish Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Commission Volkan Bozkır, a former minister for EU affairs who served in Erdoğan’s cabinet, on Thursday briefed Turkish parliamentarians on the military operation during a commission meeting, saying as many Syrians as possible will be settled in a region that will be “cleansed of terrorists” by the Turkish offensive.
On the same day Turkey’s president repeated his well-known threat to send millions of Syrian refugees to Europe in retaliation for harsh criticism of his military operation in northern Syria. Lashing out at the EU, Erdoğan warned he would “open the gates” if anyone called his offensive an “invasion.”
Nordic Monitor previously reported that President Erdoğan asked for 28 billion euros from the EU to build mass housing projects in which to settle Syrians in northern Syria, where the Turkish military is currently seeking to establish a safe zone. Moreover, Turkish public broadcaster TRT revealed Erdoğan’s construction plan by publishing mock-up photos of the project consisting of 50 towns with a population of 30,000 each and in 140 villages with a population of 5,000 each.
The latest releases from EU officials confirmed Nordic Monitor’s reporting on the second round of refugee deal talks between Turkey and the EU and Turkey’s demands in these talks. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker implicitly admitted intense pressure from Erdoğan for the funding of the Turkish president’s plan in northern Syria, telling the European Parliament that “if the Turkish plan involves the creation of a so-called safe zone, don’t expect the EU to pay for any of it.” The international community will find out in a few days whether the EU will resist the Turkish president’s blackmail over a safe zone in the region.
Ankara considers the SDF to be a threat to Turkey’s national security; Turkey sees the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which leads the SDF, as an extension of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).