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In schools and hospitals, Turkey carves north Syria role

In schools and hospitals, Turkey carves north Syria role
From Reuters - October 12, 2017

AL-BAB, Syria/BEIRUT/ANKARA (Reuters) - Children returning to school in the northern Syrian city of al-Bab were handed a new textbook this term: Trke reniyorum - I am learning Turkish.

Turkish lessons, Turkish signposts, Turkish-trained police and most recently a Turkish post office all point to Turkeys deepening role in an area of northern Syria it captured from Islamic State (IS) with the help of Syrian rebels. Turkish administrators are even helping to run hospitals in the area.

Ankara has taken on a widening role in the 100-km (60-mile) stretch of territory seized in its eight-month long Euphrates Shield operation, laying the foundations for long-term ties with an area that is of crucial strategic importance to Turkey.

Launched to drive IS away from the border, the operation also aimed to block further expansion by Syrian Kurdish groups that Ankara deems a threat to its national security.

With the Euphrates Shield region calm for months, Ankara says it wants to help recovery and to encourage a return of Syrian refugees, millions of whom fled the six-year-long war into Turkey.

But Turkish support is also consolidating the regions status as a Syrian opposition-held territory where Turkey-backed Syrian opposition groups are building their own government even as the forces of President Bashar al-Assad win back swathes of the country elsewhere.

After Daesh (Islamic State) was expelled ... we returned and the cities were suffering from large-scale destruction and general ruin, said Mohammad Karaz, director of education in al-Bab. Some schools were wiped out entirely, he said.

The restoration was done by our Turkish brothers who restored 10 schools, one of which we are sitting in today, he said during an interview at the Major Bulent al-Bayrak elementary school, named after a Turkish officer killed while fighting Islamic State for control of al-Bab.

Arabs and Turks are siblings reads a mural in the schoolyard. Turkish aid includes stationery, books and clothes.

Karaz said the schools were teaching a Syrian curriculum modified to remove the states Baathist ideology. The decision to add Turkish was taken unanimously by Syrian education officials in the area, he said.

Turkish classes, taught by Syrians trained in Turkey, have started for pupils aged between six and nine. Explaining the decision, Karaz noted that two-thirds of al-Bab citizens had sought refuge in Turkey.

Turkish authorities had given assurances that qualifications from schools in the area would be recognized in Turkey and students can apply to Turkish universities, he said.

ANKARA CRITICS SEE TURKIFICATION

A senior Turkish official said Ankara aimed to recreate the conditions to bring life back to normal in the area which is located northeast of the city of Aleppo and stretches to the western bank of the Euphrates River. Turkish support included health care, security, food and police training.

Turkey wants the Syrians living (in Turkey) to return to their country ... However, it will continue to host the Syrians here and provide humane living conditions for the Syrians in the regions under its control for as long as necessary, the official told Reuters.

BUILDING A HOSPITAL, TRAINING POLICE

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