Turkey sends doctors to Syrian border on eve of possible incursion

Turkey has stationed doctors from 19 provinces in two southeastern provinces on Friday near the border with Syria ahead of a possible cross-border military operation in the country according to a Reuters report.

The Ministry of Health sent a circular to the health units in 19 provinces, including Istanbul, Adana, Ankara, Antalya, Diyarbakır, Elazig, Batman, and Izmir, where the health personnel would be dispatched to Sanliurfa and Mardin for a month starting as of September 20.

The ministry also canceled leave for doctors in the region as a precautionary measure.

“The leaves of doctors have been suspended to prepare for a possible cross-border operation. We have been preparing for a long time. Now it is at a phase that the operation can be conducted whenever deemed necessary,” a senior security official told Reuters.

The Ministry ordered the Sanliurfa governor to cancel the annual leaves of the health personnel in the border city until further notice, Arti Gercek news portal reported on Thursday.

“The leaves are canceled without specifying any deadline. The officials did not declare any reason to us. We think that it is related to the current situation in Syria,” said Omer Melik, the head of the Urfa Medical Chamber.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated last week that Turkey would act unilaterally to establish a safe zone in northern Syria along the Turkish border if the joint efforts with the United States (US) could not progress within two weeks, referring to a likely incursion into the region.

In recent months, Turkey and the US have been hashing out details on the safe zone. In August, they set up what the Pentagon calls a Combined Joint Operations Center (CJOC) in Turkey.

Ankara and Washington, however, so far disagreed over the size and oversight of the zone.

Since the establishment of the CJOC, the two have conducted several aerial patrols and one ground patrol, surveying the area to the east of the Euphrates River.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu described the US steps as cosmetic, while Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Thursday that the US and Turkey were implementing the deal as agreed before.

With the safe zone, Erdogan’s Turkey plans to set up what it calls a “peace corridor.” According to the Turkish discourse, the safe zone would also enable resettling Syrian refugees in the country’s north.

Turkey also aims at clearing the area dominated by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a group regarded as a terrorist organization by Ankara.

This is due to its alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). However, Washington considers YPG an ally in its fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).

Turkey previously carried out two incursions in 2016 and 2018, in a bid to dislodge Kurdish militia fighters close to Turkey’s southern border.

Next week, Erdogan and US President Donald Trump will discuss plans for the safe zone along 450 km (280 miles) of the Syrian border stretching from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border.

Erdogan says up to 3 million refugees could be settled back in safe zone

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