By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal
LONDON (AA) – The UK officially thanked Turkey on Wednesday for responding to the Syrian refugee crisis and maintaining regional security.
The gesture came during a visit to Turkey by British Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt.
“Turkey is an important and longstanding friend of the UK, and I was pleased that I was able to offer the UK’s thanks to our partners in the Turkish government for their frontline role in tackling the Syrian refugee crisis,” Burt said in a statement on the British government’s website.
Burt, who visited Gaziantep, Istanbul and Ankara, met with representatives of the Turkish government to discuss efforts to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Syria’s Idlib province.
“We are encouraged by this week’s agreement between Turkey and Russia to avoid a military offensive by the Syrian regime and its allies,” Burt said.
“This agreement, if implemented in accordance with international humanitarian law, will help to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe,” he added.
Burt met with Ibrahim Kalin, chief advisor to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Deputy Interior Minister Ismail Çatakli, the statement said.
“He thanked the Turkish government for its important role in supporting over 3.5 million Syrians displaced by the conflict and discussed ways that the UK and Turkey can continue to work closely together,” it added.
Burt also met members of the White Helmets, a Nobel Peace Prize-nominated civilian defense group that works tirelessly to protect the lives of civilians caught in the conflict, according to the statement.
“During my visit, I had the privilege of meeting members of the White Helmets, and we thank them for their service, courage and sacrifice which has saved over 115,000 Syrian lives,” he said.
“They must be able to continue their vital work without being targeted by the Assad regime.”
Burt said he was also deeply impressed by the innovative work of Hala Systems, “a UK aid funded initiative that can offer Syrian civilians valuable minutes to get to safety ahead of airstrikes and which has seen a 27 percent reduction in the number of casualties in areas under heavy bombardment”, he added.
Hala Systems provides early warning of incoming airstrikes through WhatsApp and on social media.