Erdogan says 3 million refugees could be returned to Syria safe zone

On Wednesday, Erdogan repeated his threat to launch military attacks against the Kurds if they are not pushed back from the Turkish border by the end of the month. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 September 2019

Erdogan says 3 million refugees could be returned to Syria safe zone

  • Turkey is home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, the highest number in the world
  • Working with the US, Turkish forces are seeking to clear a swathe of northern Syria

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip said Wednesday that up to three million Syrian refugees could be returned to a “safe zone” it is seeking to establish in northern Syria.
Turkey is home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees — the highest number in the world — and there have been signs of a public backlash over their presence after eight long years of war in its neighbor to the south.
Working with the United States, Turkish forces are seeking to clear a swathe of northern Syria, in part to push Kurdish rebels away from its border but also to facilitate the return of refugees.
If successful, “we will be able to house, depending on the depth of the safe zone, between two and three million Syrian refugees that are currently in Turkey and Europe,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.
Erdogan said earlier this week that he envisions the “peace corridor” as stretching right across northern Syria all the way to Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa — which he said would allow even more than three million to return.
He called for “much greater support” from Europe in realizing the plan.
For Turkey, a key priority is curbing the influence of Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it sees as an off-shoot of the Kurdish separatists in its own territory.
On Wednesday, Erdogan repeated his threat to launch military attacks against the Kurds if they are not pushed back from the Turkish border by the end of the month.
“As we’ve said, if we don’t see results in the next two weeks, we will activate our plan,” he said.
But the YPG is firmly established in northern Syria and has been a crucial ally of the United States in fighting the Daesh group, creating a tricky balancing act for Washington.
Ankara says US promises to push the YPG back from the Turkish border have so far been “cosmetic.”
Turkey has twice launched unilateral operations into Syria against the YPG and Daesh group, in 2016 and 2018.


Lebanese celebrities join Beirut protests as anger rises over tax reforms

Updated 52 min 21 sec ago

Lebanese celebrities join Beirut protests as anger rises over tax reforms

  • A video emerged on social media showing actress Nadine Al-Rassi preparing to set fire to a car tire in downtown Beirut
  • In a series of tweets, Lebanese recording artist Elissa, who is abroad, supported the protesters’ demands

BEIRUT: Lebanese celebrities joined thousands of protesters on the streets of Beirut on Saturday to voice their anger at the country’s ruling elite.
Singers, actors and playwrights were among a host of high-profile artists who backed demands for action over government corruption and to counter Lebanon’s spiralling economic crisis.
Beirut has been shrouded in smoke for three days following widespread protests and rioting over government tax plans.
A video emerged on social media showing actress Nadine Al-Rassi preparing to set fire to a car tire in downtown Beirut and crying inconsolably about her financial state.
The actress, wearing jeans and her face blackened, told protesters: “I am Nadine Al-Rassi. I was hungry for seven days. I have debts. Banque du Liban (Lebanon’s central bank) seized my house and I am unable to rent a home. Corrupt people should be held responsible.”


In a series of tweets, Lebanese recording artist Elissa, who is abroad, supported the protesters’ demands, saying: “This is the first time I wish I were in Lebanon. My heart is with you.”
In another tweet, the high-profile singer, one of the Middle East’s best-selling performers, said: “I proudly follow the news of Beirut and its citizens ... who are demanding a decent life. It is time for people to get back their dignity.”
Meanwhile, singer and composer Ragheb Alama expressed his dismay at a Council of Ministers plan to impose a daily fee on WhatsApp calls.
“The people’s misfortunes are not funny. Why don’t you tax the polluted air people breathe? It is a great idea that brings money to your fathers’ treasury, too,” he wrote.
Alama accused the Parliament of responsibility for the country’s dire economy: “Why do deputies receive money, privileges and overheads, and what have they done? They covered up for looting and stealing for decades. They are responsible for destroying the economy and the country.”
Nancy Ajram, one of the Arab world’s most popular singers, wrote on Twitter: “My heart goes out to my country every moment and with every heartbeat. We are a people who deserves to live and it is our right to live with dignity. May God protect Lebanon.”
Singer and actress Haifa Wehbe tweeted: “There is nothing better than the Lebanese people when they stand in unity and under one slogan, without any political affiliation. We are all for our country.”
Comedian and prime-time TV host Hisham Haddad was among celebrities who joined protesters at Riad El-Solh Square, near the Prime Minister’s office, site of the biggest centralized demonstrations.
Actress Maguy Bou Ghosn, singer Moeen Shreif, actors Abdo Chahine, Badih Abou Chakra and Junaid Zeineldine, playwright Ziad Itani and musician Ziyad Sahhab also joined the protests.
Actor Wissam Hanna called on Twitter for protesters to close the Beirut Airport road to stop corrupt officials fleeing the country.
“I am all for closing down the airport road to stop thieves from fleeing. I am all for recovering stolen funds. Lebanon rises, revolts and it is time to hold them accountable,” he wrote.
Actress Gretta Aoun said: “We have to take to the streets. They must know the extent of our pain.”