THE STORIES BEHIND THE HEADLINES

Abu Dhabi

London

New York

Tuesday 20th March 2018

Northeastern Syria: Continuing Turkish Aggression, Worldwide Condemnation

Politics

Ahmed Fathi

Thu, 10 Oct 2019 12:40 GMT

Continuing its violation of international law and human rights, Turkey initiated military aggression against northeastern Syria, in a move that could result in the killing of thousands of innocent civilians, the displacement of others and the return of terrorist organisations to this region.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signalled the start of the alleged ‘Spring Peace Operation’ against Kurdish forces in northern Syria in a tweet on Wednesday October 9th.

Erdogan alleged that the operation would target the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG) and Isis and aim to create a safe area for the return of Syrian refugees, while preserving Syrian territorial integrity.

Erdogan also claimed that the Turkish armed forces were carrying out this operation in partnership with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) militia, which includes extremist and terrorist elements, which raised questions about Erdogan’s claim of eliminating terrorism while cooperating with terrorist elements.


The move was prompted by President Trump's announcement on Sunday October 6th, that United States forces would withdraw from the region, where Kurdish forces are capturing thousands of Isis militants and their families and threatening to open a new front in the Syrian war, according to The Guardian.

Trump's announcement gave the green light to the Turkish regime to carry out its aggression against innocent people claiming to fight terrorism and protect Turkey.

On Monday 7th October, Trump warned Ankara not to cross its "limit" in Syria, saying it would prompt a retaliatory response that would wreck its economy.

Condemnations

The Turkish regime's decision was condemned regionally and internationally. The United Arab Emirates denounced in the strongest terms the Turkish military aggression against Syria.

A statement issued by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MFAIC) said that this aggression represented a dangerous development and an unacceptably blatant aggression against the sovereignty of a brother Arab state in contravention of the rules of international law, Emirati news agency, WAM, reported.

The statement affirmed the UAE's firm stance and rejection of all that affects the sovereignty of Arab national security and threatens international peace and security, warning of the consequences of this aggression on the unity and territorial integrity of Syria and the political process.

Bahrain also condemned the Turkish attack on northeastern Syria. "We strongly condemn the Turkish attack on Syrian territory, which is a violation of the rules of international law and an attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.


"We call on the Security Council to expedite its responsibilities in addressing the Turkish attack." the Bahraini Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Egypt has denounced in the strongest terms the "Turkish aggression" on Syrian territory, and called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League to discuss these developments and ways to preserve Syria's sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity.

"Egypt condemns in the strongest terms the Turkish aggression on Syrian territory," the Egyptian Foreign Ministry stated and said that the operation "represents a blatant and unacceptable attack on the sovereignty of a brotherly Arab state."

Iraqi President Barham Salih denounced the Turkish incursion into northeast Syria, on Twitter, saying that terrorists will take advantage of the situation.

Internationally, France, Britain and Germany are in the process of issuing a joint statement "strongly condemning" the Turkish operation, while a separate European Union statement will be agreed after all countries sign it, according to Amélie de Montchalin, French Secretary of State for European Affairs.

German Minister for Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas said that the Turkish operation could further destabilise the region and could once more strengthen Isis. He urged Ankara to halt the operation.

The EU urged Turkey on Wednesday to stop its military operation in northern Syria, saying it rejected Ankara's plans for a safe area for refugees and would not provide any aid to the region.

"The EU calls on Turkey to stop its unilateral military operation. The so-called safe area in northeastern Syria is unlikely to meet international standards for the return of refugees.

"The EU will not grant assistance to establish or develop areas where the rights of local people are ignored," the EU's 28 member states said in a joint statement.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker urged Turkey to show restraint and stop its military operation.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the Turkish offence in Syria was threatening to destabilise the region and harm civilians.

In Denmark, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said on Twitter, "I am very concerned about the Turkish military operation in Syria. In my opinion, this is an unfortunate and wrong decision that could have serious repercussions on civilians and the fight against Isis. Turkey should show restraint. Denmark is in close contact with allies in this regard."

In the Netherlands, Foreign Minister Stef Blok said in a statement that he had repatriated Turkey's ambassador after Ankara began a military operation in Syria. "The Netherlands condemns the Turkish attack on northeastern Syria," Blok said in a statement, "We call on Turkey not to continue on its path."

Panic among Civilians

Mustafa Bali, a spokesperson for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which Ankara considers an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), confirmed shortly after Erdogan announced that Turkish warplanes had already started attacking the area, that the action had created "great panic among the people." An SDF soldier posted pictures of smoke plumes, which he said were the result of air strikes and artillery fire near the border town of Ras al-Ayn, (Sari Kani).

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war observer, said civilians in Ras al-Ayn and nearby villages were fleeing deep into the Kurdish-controlled area. A spokesperson said Qamishli and Ain Issa, the main administrative centres of the SDF, had been hit by air strikes.

Turkish forces already crossed the border near the other key border town Tal Abyad earlier in the day.

The Turkish regime alleged it is seeking to establish a safe zone 20 miles (32km) deep into the border region to secure the country from the threat of Kurdish forces and Isis.

In January 2018, Ankara launched a military operation named ‘Olive Branch’ targeting SDF positions in the Afrin area of the Aleppo northern region. This operation involved widespread violations against civilians.

Amnesty International (AI) called on Turkey to stop the widespread human rights abuses by armed groups working for Turkish regime in Syria's Afrin, which until recently was under Kurdish administration.

According to Deutsche Welle (DW), AI reported that the residents of Afrin "suffer multiple human rights violations, most of which are carried out by armed and equipped Syrian groups backed by Turkey.


"These violations, to which the Turkish armed forces turn a blind eye, include arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, confiscation of property and looting," AI said.

Trump commissioned Turkey to ensure the gains against Isis and the remnants of the regional ‘caliphate’, driven earlier this year by US-led ground forces and Kurds, were not lost. Turkey was also to ensure the safety of nearly 90,000 men, women, and children with links to the terrorist group that the Kurds are currently capturing.

The largest camp for women and children, al-Hawl, with 74,000 people, is located outside the boundaries of the proposed safe zone. It is not clear how Turkey will deal with the transfer of prisoners from SDF custody.

The Kurdish forces have emphasised almost frantically in the last few days that the hard-won gains in their long battle against Isis are now being put at risk, the BBC has reported.

The SDF has lost an estimated 11,000 fighters in battling Isis. They succeeded with US help. But they said that for example, they may have to withdraw their forces from prisons where they are holding Isis militants or from cities that have been liberated from the terrorist organisation.

Turkey has been massing troops for days along the border with Syria. To the south of the Kurdish-controlled area of Syria, the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were on the move, leaving the SDF trapped between the two.

According to The Guardian, Trump’s decision to pull back US troops from Syria leaving the SDF vulnerable to attack, has been widely criticised by allies and even some of the President’s staunchest Republican allies.

Humanitarian Catastrophe

Critics say the withdrawal threatens to unleash a humanitarian catastrophe as thousands flee the expected fighting, as well as the resurgence of Isis. The SDF says it has already withdrawn some soldiers from prisons and camps holding Isis prisoners to focus on defending the region against Turkey, raising fears that Isis sleeper cells may attack and free those inside.

Isis claimed a night suicide attack by two of its fighters in its former capital Raqqa, killing and wounding 25 people.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Turkish regime claimed that the US president had handed it the mandate to lead the military campaign against Isis and warned that its troops would cross into Syria "soon."

In response, Kurdish leaders in the region issued a public call for mobilisation, urging civilians to "go to the border with Turkey ... to resist during this delicate historic moment." SDF continued digging trenches and tunnels in border areas, where the streets were covered with metal sheets and car tyres were prepared for burning, to prevent Turkish drone surveillance cameras.

Kurdish officials also said they had asked Russia, Assad's main ally, to facilitate dialogue with Damascus. The Kurds risk losing the autonomy they gained during the eight-year war in Syria by realigning with the Syrian government, but such a move may prevent Turkey's worst aggression.


Middle East