A spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights warned Oct. 15 that Turkey may be held responsible for executions and civilian casualties that have occurred as a part of its military offensive in northern Syria. Rupert Colville stated that the office has received reports detailing civilian casualties as well as "summary executions carried out by fighters belonging to the Ahrar al-Sharqiya armed group, which is affiliated with Turkey."
In a deal brokered by Russia, the leadership of the Rojava Kurds have agreed to cooperate with the Assad regime in resisting the Turkish incursion into northeast Syria. With Assadist forces already mobilizing to the region from the south and Turkish-backed forces advancing from the north, the Kurds have been left with little other choice. Accepting a separate peace with Assad is now their only hope to avoid outright extermination, or, at the very least, being cleansed entirely from their territory. But the sticking point in previous peace feelers between the Kurds and Assad has been the latter's refusal to recognize the Rojava autonomous zone—so its survival now is gravely in doubt, even in the improbable event that the Turkish advance is repulsed. Worse still, with the Kurds now open allies of the brutal regime that Syria's Arab opposition has been fighting for nearly eight years, a general Arab-Kurdish ethnic war in northern Syria appears terrifyingly imminent.
Turkey launched its assault on the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Syria Oct. 9, with air-strikes and artillery pounding areas along the Syrian-Turkish border. Hundreds of civilians have fled the bombardment, headed south into areas still held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The Turkish offensive comes days after President Trump announced that he is withdrawing US forces from Kurdish-held territory in Syria, a move widely condemned by Washington's allies. "The [US] statement was a surprise and we can say that it is a stab in the back for the SDF," said militia spokesman Kino Gabriel. (MEE, BBC News)
With the forces of eastern strongman Khalifa Hifter stalled outside Tripoli in his drive to oust Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA), both sides have been sniping at each other with drone strikes. Experts say that Haftar has procured Chinese-made Wing Loong drones from his main backer, the United Arab Emirates. The GNA, meanwhile, has turned to Ankara, its own increasingly open backer, which is believed to be supplying Turkish Bayraktar drones. All of this is in defiance of a supposed arms embargo, just renewed by the UN Security Council in June. Over 1,000 have been killed, close to 6,000 injured, and 120,000 displaced in the battle for Tripoli, which opened a year ago. (SCMP, Spet. 19)
Drone strikes on Sept. 27 targeted positions of an Iran-backed pro-government militia, the Popular Mobilization Forces, in northern Iraq, at al-Bukamal near the Syrian border. Hours later, a second attack struck a base in the Fallujah area used by the same militia force. Reports suggested the strikes were carried out by Israel, which has been stepping up attacks on Iran-backed forces across the border in Syria. (Haaretz, ToI) On Sept. 24, Turkish warplanes attacked the Chamanke area of Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan, killing a local shopkeeper. Turkey has been for years targeting positions of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. (Rudaw) On Sept. 10, US-led coalition forces bombed a supposed ISIS stronghold on Qanus Island in the Tigris River, in Salahuddin province. ISIS fighters who had fled areas re-taken from the group in Mosul and Syrian territory are said to have taken refuge on the island. (Iraq News, Stars & Stripes)
A meeting in Turkish capital Ankara between the Turkish, Russian and Iranian presidents failed to reach a breakthrough on what is obviously a planned carve-up of Syria. But a consensus does appear to be emerging on betrayal of the Syrian Kurds. Ankara is promoting a plan to resettle displaced Syrians in a Turkish-controlled "safe zone" stretching across Syria's north. While the US wants the width of the "safe zone" confined to 10 kilometers, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that the zone could be expanded to Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor—respectively some 100 and 200 kilometers from the Turkish border. Significantly, the city of Raqqa and much of Deir ez-Zor province are controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Erdogan has named a figure of 3 million refugees and displaced persons to be settled within the "safe zone." (EA Worldview, France24, Reuters)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to allow Syrian refugees to leave Turkey for Europe if his long-sought "safe zone" in northern Syria is not established. "We will be forced to open the gates. We cannot be forced to handle the burden alone," he told a meeting of his ruling party, the AKP, stating that Turkey "did not receive the support needed from the world." This is a reference to is the promised financial aid from the European Union, and the provision of visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens, as part of the EU-Turkey deal on refugees struck back in 2016. Only half of the pledged €6 billion has arrived, according to Turkey, and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals has not yet been granted—largely due to concerns about the human rights situation in Turkey. In July, Ankara declared the refugee deal no longer under effect.
The municipalities of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van in Turkey's east have been rocked by unrest since the central government removed their newly elected mayors from office over alleged links to a Kurdish armed group last month. "Trustees" have been appointed to govern the municipalities, as protesters have repeatedly clashed with riot police, who have deployed tear-gas, water-cannons and armored vehicles. The leftist and Kurdish-supported Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) has refused to accept the suspension of the mayors and called for ongoing protests to uphold "the will of the people." Amid the protest wave, Ankara has launched "Operation Kıran," a new campaign against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the region, with hundreds arrested. Among those sentenced to prison last week was Raife İnatçı, a 70-year-old Kurdish woman in Diyarbakır, whose six-month term was upheld by a local court. She was accused of spreading "terrorist propaganda" with a placard she carried at a demonstration. (Al Monitor, Turkey Purge, BIANet, Daily Sabah)