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Turkey sends power lines into Syrian town cleared of IS

Energy ministry says electricity infrastructure is 'crucial step' to allow life to return to normal in Jarabulus after rule of Islamic State group
Free Syrian Army fighters liberated Jarabulus last month (Reuters)

ISTANBUL, Turkey – Turkey has begun laying an underground power cable to supply the Syrian town of Jarabulus with electricity before the commencement of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday.

Turkey's energy ministry confirmed that work was under way on a 3km cable running from Karakamis in Turkey’s Gaziantep province to Jarabulus. It said a 2km stretch of the cable would be on Syrian territory and the rest in Turkey.

“Having kicked ISIS out of Jarabulus, our next goal is to help bring life back to normal in the area,” a Turkish official said.  

“With hundreds of Syrian refugees returning to recently liberated areas across the Turkish-Syrian border, supplying electricity is a crucial step to accomplish that task.”

Turkey launched a military incursion into northern Syria on 24 August initially to free the town of Jarabulus from IS control.

The operation by Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels and Turkish armour has since expanded to clear IS from other border areas it controlled.

Operation Euphrates Shield was also intended to prevent the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) from establishing a continuous corridor along Turkey’s southern border.

Turkish authorities reported that Syrian refugees had started returning to areas cleared by FSA fighters.

The electricity will be provided free of charge as part of the Turkish government’s humanitarian relief efforts, according to an official, who requested his name be withheld for procedural reasons.

The plan also involved the provision of portable water to Jarabulus, supplied by the Gaziantep municipality.

Turkey used to provide sections of northern Syria with electricity until October 2012 under a deal with Bashar al-Assad's government in Damascus.

Turkish officials have been keen to see Syrian Arabs, whom they say are the native population of the area, return there and to scupper what it sees as PYD attempts to enact demographic changes in the region.

Turkey has, for quite some time, accused the PYD, which it considers the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), of trying to change the ethnic make-up of the area.

Ankara has also been at odds with the United States over the use of the PYD’s armed wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG), as its proxy ground troops in the fight against IS.

Both Turkey and the US designate the PKK as a terrorist organisation but the US has refused to extend that definition to the PYD.

Fears of clashes between Turkey, a NATO-member, and US-backed YPG troops emerged after Ankara launched operation Euphrates Shield.

Turkey has said the YPG must be made to withdraw to the eastern banks of the Euphrates river or it will be a legitimate target. It has neither placed a time limit on Euphrates Shield or defined the extent to which its troops will advance in Syria.

On Wednesday, Ankara announced its openness to conduct a joint military operation with the US to wrest the IS stronghold of Raqqa from its control. However, Turkey's continuing wish to implement a no-fly zone over northern Syria has not gained any traction with US officials.