Turkey-supported business hub in Syria on way to recovery 

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Located on the edge of a city once occupied by terrorists, wedged between a Turkish border wall to the north and a frontline with Syrian regime forces to the south, al-Bab is emerging as a business hub that is set to enable recovery from war.

In an industrial zone in northern Syria’s opposition-held city of al-Bab, Abu Omar al-Shihabi’s smelter churns out iron bars he says can compete with any produced in Syria and beyond.

The zone, one of five in the region, which is controlled by the opposition, is key to efforts to develop an economy hit by hardship and destruction during Syria’s 11-year conflict.

Success could bring sorely needed jobs and opportunities six years after Turkish troops and Syrian soldiers drove terrorist organizations from the region.

In line with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016 across its border in al-Bab, northern Syria to prevent the formation of a terrorism corridor and enable the peaceful settlement of residents.

Al-Bab was cleared of Daesh terrorists in the sixth month of the operation.

Through projects carried out in the fields of education, health, infrastructure and services, the population in the al-Bab city center and surrounding settlements reached around 400,000.

Attaching great importance to the right to education of those living in the region, Turkey played a major role in the reconstruction of 150 schools in al-Bab, where currently around 150,000 students receive education in the city center.

Turkey states that stability can encourage Syrian refugees to head back across the border into Syria.

Shihabi said the low wages in northern Syria and abundance of scrap metal after years of war offer big advantages to his iron smelter.

“In Syria, I can compete with the Turks with my own products,” said Shihabi, who mainly sells into opposition-held territories and also into Turkey.

The industrial zone, home to about 30 factories and workshops, was established four years ago on the road north from al-Bab, with support from Turkey.

Turkey’s Health Ministry has also carried out work in the region to help residents, providing health care services within the scope of humanitarian and technical assistance.

Many health institutions catering to citizens have been set up in the region as the ministry has been working to minimize the transfer of patients from Syria to Turkey.

Al-Bab Hospital, established in the city center with the contributions of Turkey’s Health Ministry, has become one of the most important hospitals in northern Syria.

Turkey’s Diyanet Foundation also restored many mosques in the area with the support of philanthropists.

The Turkish lira is widely used in the region and Turkish administrators help run schools and hospitals.

Building self-reliance

At the industrial zone, factories produce a range of goods, including iron bars used in construction, shoes, clothes, mats, mineral water, and tahina, said businessperson Omar Waki who set up the project.

“The biggest inducement (to set up operations) … is the low cost. Labour for us is cheap compared to other areas,” he said.

Northern Syria, particularly the city of Aleppo just 30 kilometers (18 miles) to the southwest of al-Bab, was Syria’s commercial hub before 2011, when protests against Bashar Assad spiraled into a civil war, driving many businesses across into Turkey.

Most products in the al-Bab zone are sold within the northern opposition-held territories, although some do reach more distant markets across frontlines or borders.

Despite cheap labor costs, businesses in the industrial zone face steep challenges. The region is still vulnerable to a possible offensive by Syrian regime forces, while poor transport links and rising electricity costs hamper expansion.

The regime has survived nine years of conflict yet is still far from being a proponent of a solution that would end all hostilities. It has blocked several negotiation attempts of a constitutional committee and a U.N.-brokered process to find a political solution.

For years, the Assad regime has ignored the needs and safety of the Syrian people, only eyeing further gains of territory and crushing the opposition. With this aim, the regime has for years bombed vital facilities like schools, hospitals and residential areas, causing the displacement of almost half of the country’s population.

Shihabi’s smelter is just a fraction of the size of his pre-war operation, which employed 150 people before it was hit in a 2012 air raid. Now it has just 25 workers, and production is down nearly 90%.

Abdel Khaleq Tahbash set up a factory producing floormats after fleeing bombardment in Idlib. Despite complaints about electricity costs and obstacles to selling abroad, he said he was happy to be in al-Bab.

“I prefer to work in Syria,” he said. “This is my country.”

Waki said security in the northwest was improving, drawing more people to invest including three Turkish companies. While the al-Bab zone remains modest, it shows Syrian businesses are resilient, he said.

“Instead of importing from China or Turkey, we can make it ourselves. We are self-reliant.”

YPG/PKK terrorists frequently mount attacks on liberated areas despite increased security facilitated by the Turkish Armed Forces. Residents want the mounting attacks by the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terrorist organization, the YPG, to come to an end. The YPG targets al-Bab from Syria’s Manbij and Tal Rifat areas that remain under the group’s control.

In its more than 40-year terrorism campaign against Turkey, the PKK – listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union – has been responsible for the deaths of at least 40,000 people, including women, children and infants.


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