ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s Gaziantep University will open three faculties in small northern Syria towns, Ankara’s Official Gazette said on Friday, reflecting a growing Turkish presence in the region.
An Islamic sciences faculty will be opened in Syria’s Azaz, an education faculty in Afrin, and a faculty of economics and administrative sciences in Al-Bab, Turkey’s official state publication said.
All three towns are in northwestern Syria, west of the Euphrates river and broadly north of Aleppo, in regions to which Turkey has twice sent forces in the last three years to drive back the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and Islamic State fighters, in a bid to protect its own border.
The towns have been struck in the past by bomb attacks, some of which have been blamed on Islamic State and others on Kurdish fighters.
Ankara has previously built hospitals, restored schools and trained personnel in northwest Syria, and Turkish media reports say it is planning to build an industrial zone in the region to create jobs for 7,000 people.
Gaziantep University, based in the southeastern Turkish city of the same name, has previously opened a vocational school in the Syrian border town of Jarablus, just west of the Euphrates.
Across the Euphrates, Turkey has warned of military action in northeast Syria in a region controlled by the YPG, if the United States fails to follow through on establishing a planned “safe zone” there.
The United States supports the YPG-led force that defeated Islamic State fighters in Syria, while Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organization.
Ankara and Washington previously agreed to form a safe zone along the border east of the Euphrates, where U.S. troops are also stationed. But President Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey has no choice but to act alone there given the lack of progress in talks with the United States.
Turkey says it would like to settle up to 2 million Syrian refugees in the safe zone, and last week state broadcaster TRT Haber published details of Ankara’s plans for a 151 billion lira ($27 billion) construction project there to house up to 1 million.
Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Daren Butler and Hugh Lawson