Growing tension in northeast Syria despite Turkish truce

A displaced Syrian family seeking shelter in Bardarash refugee camp, Iraq A displaced Syrian family seeking shelter in Bardarash refugee camp, Iraq UNHCR/Rasheed Hussein Rasheed

160,000 displaced persons, civilian casualties and summary executions reported since the beginning of the Turkish offensive

Since Turkey’s announcement of an offensive against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria on 9 October, violence in the region has been escalating. Not even the five-day truce announced by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence last Thursday after talks with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan seems to be effectively providing security in the area. The much-debated decision of U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw troops from northeast Syria was followed by the talks between the United States and Turkey. This decision by the President left former Kurdish allies vulnerable to the attack announced by Turkey earlier this summer. The truce was agreed to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw from the region without the use of force.

Turkey’s objective is to create a safe-zone of 32 km between its borders and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Turkey considers YPG as affiliated with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), an internationally recognized terrorist group. According to the United Nations (UN) agencies, the number of displaced persons as a result of Turkey’s intervention amounts to more than 160,000, fleeing primarily towards Northern Iraq. Figures concerning civilian casualties are unclear, but UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) confirmed the death of at least four children and the UN human rights office (OHCHR) reports the deaths of many other civilians, including two journalists. Tension is rising not only in bordering areas but also in the Iraqi Kurdistan. In addition, summary executions, which are serious violations of international law, on the Al-Hassek - Mabbij highway were documented, including the execution of a well-known Kurdish politician, Hevrin Khalaf.

The U.S. President Donald Trump, the European Union (EU) and Turkey’s NATO allies responded to Turkey’s military action with threats of sanctions. Despite the rejection of Sweden’s proposal for an EU weapons embargo against Turkey, many EU countries such as France, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, and Italy – the latter being the main arms exporter to Turkey last year – decided to halt the sales. Mr. Jens Laerke from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stated the UN will deliver assistance in the region “until it becomes impossible to do so” while many humanitarian NGOs have already been obliged to terminate operations because of security concerns. 


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