Turkey’s foreign minister, on a visit to Qatar on Wednesday, defended the idea of “safe zones” in war-ravaged Syria and pressed the need for them to be properly funded.
Mevlut Cavusoglu said that only through making the zones habitable would tens of thousands of Syrians be encouraged to return home. “Firstly, we need to defend this idea,” said Cavusoglu.
“Secondly, when it becomes a safe zone, we need to build houses, schools and facilities, therefore we need to raise funds together to develop the safe zone area so the people can live in a proper conditions.”
Cavusoglu was speaking at the inauguration of a Turkish hospital which has been built in Doha. He added: “When we have the safe zone with the infrastructure... I am sure many refugees will prefer to go back.”
The minister was part of a high-level Turkish delegation, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, visiting Qatar as part of a Gulf tour also taking in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Cavusoglu’s comments follow a call by Erdogan earlier this month for a safe zone in northern Syria, “free of terrorism”. Turkey believes such a zone could help to alleviate the burden of accommodating Syrian refugees.
Although the idea of “safe zones” has not always had the support of some in the West, it was reported by US media last month that the Pentagon would be given 90 days to draw up a plan to set up such areas. Erdogan was due to leave Doha on Wednesday evening. During his visit he met Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.
Turkey and Qatar are particularly close allies and last year the first call Erdogan received from a foreign leader during the July 15 coup was from the Qatari emir. Qatar also hosts a Turkish military base. Both states are united in their backing for rebels fighting Assad’s regime.