21 June 2018 - Growing concerns over HRs abuses by Turkish-backed rebels in Afrin
Jun 21 2018
Torture cases against civilians have been increasingly reported in the northwestern Syrian district of Afrin since the Kurdish-majority area has fallen under the control of Turkish-backed rebels, raising concerns among locals and rights groups.
Ahmed Sheikho, the vice president of the local council in the town of Shiyeh in Afrin, was tortured to death last week by a rebel group that is in control of the town, according to local sources and family members.
Contacted by Ahval, Sheikho’s family in Afrin confirmed his death, but refused to give details for fear of retribution. His Beirut-based brother, however, said in a video posted on social media that his brother was arrested and killed by rebels.
“My brother was a vocal critic of the rebels who have occupied Afrin,” said Mustafa Sheikho.
“They arrested him several days before his death to silence him. And because he refused to cooperate with them, they began torturing him. They only released him when they were certain he would die. Indeed after one day of his release, he died in front of his wife at home. Signs of torture were clearly visible all over his body,” he added.
The Kurdish National Council in Syria (KNC), a group that has ties Turkey, issued a statement following Sheikho’s death, accusing the rebels of committing crimes in Afrin.
“We are strongly condemning this criminal act and other abuses perpetrated by these gangs that are in contrast to human rights treaties and amount to war crimes,” the KNC statement said.
“Since these [rebel] groups have entered Afrin, there have been many incidents of looting, burning properties and landmarks and kidnapping and torturing civilians,” the statement added.
The Kurdish group said its representatives in Afrin are collecting information and evidence about ongoing abuses in the region.
“Based on the findings, our legal committee will prepare reports and send them to international organisations and governments,” Hasan Salih, a top KNC official, told Ahval. “The perpetrators must be held accountable,” he said.
On Jan 20, 2018, Turkey and allied rebel forces began a major military campaign, codenamed Operation Olive Branch, to oust Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from Afrin. The operation ended on March 18 after the Turkish military and its Syrian allies took complete control of the Kurdish city.
Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Turkish-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been engaged in a three-decade conflict with Turkish armed forces for greater autonomy in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast.
Rights groups said they have been following these developments in Afrin since the start of the operation against Kurdish fighters in January.
“We are closely following what’s going on in Afrin,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, acting emergencies director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“We made a trip to northern Syria in May to document what’s really happening in Afrin,” she told Ahval. “It’s difficult to talk to people inside the city because they are afraid of the rebels, so we interviewed many of Afrin residents who have fled their homes and are now in other areas such as Kobani and Qamishli.”
The HRW released a report last week in which it said Turkish-backed rebels “have seized, looted, and destroyed property of Kurdish civilians in the Afrin district of northern Syria.”
Ahrar al-Sharqiyah and Jaish al-Sharqiyah were among the rebel groups that participated in these actions against civilians, according to Afrin residents HRW researchers spoke to.
Two days following the death of Ahmed Sheikho, another civilian was reportedly tortured after being arrested by a group of armed men affiliated with the Sultan Murad Division, one of the largest rebel groups in Afrin.
Mohamed Ibrahim was selling grape leaves in his truck in downtown Afrin when the armed men approached him and demanded to take over his vehicle and any money he had on him.
When the 54-year-old Kurdish resident gave them the money but refused their hand them his truck, he was snatched from the scene and taken to a building used by the group as an interrogation center, according to his relatives.
Jwan Ibrahim, Mohamed’s relative who lives in London, has been in contact with the family after Mohamed was taken to a hospital in Turkey’s Hatay province for treatment.
“They took him back to his car only after he lost consciousness under torture,” he told Ahval, adding that Moahmed’s is currently in critical condition.
He said that Mohamed was kept in detention for one day during which they used batons and cables for beating him up. Ibrahim is farmer who has no political opinions, his cousin Jwan said.
Some opposition figures have voiced their criticism of the ill-treatment of civilians in Afrin.
“The biggest disservice to the Operation Olive Branch and to the sacrifices of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Turkish military is our ‘silence’ about the crimes committed by those who are hiding in the cloak FSA.,” Mustafa Sejari, a top FSA commander, said in a tweet.
“They are intimidating, stealing and dishonoring our civilian people, traders and farmers. They are accusing everyone who raise voice among civilians of being members of ISIS and PKK,” he added.
The KNC called on Turkey to put an end to these violations against the local population in Afrin.
“These acts are being committed under the watch of the Turkish military, which, as an occupying state, is legally responsible for protecting civilians and their properties [in Afrin]” the KNC added.
Human rights experts too believe that Turkey should take on the responsibility of protecting civilian lives in Afrin.
“Turkey has an obligation to ensure law and order in Afrin, including restraining rebel fighters from committing unlawful acts against civilians,” said Motaparthy of HRW. Source
14 June 2018 - Turkey and FSA should compensate displaced residents of Afrin - HRW
Turkey-backed armed groups in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) should compensate displaced Kurdish residents whose property they have seized or destroyed in the Afrin district of northern Syria, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday.
The FSA has installed its fighters and their families in residents’ homes and destroyed and looted civilian properties in Afrin without compensating the owners according to HRW.
“Instead of protecting vulnerable civilians’ rights, these fighters are perpetuating a cycle of abuse,” Priyanka Motaparthy, acting emergencies director at HRW said.
Turkey’s military offensive, Operation Olive Branch, was launched on January 20 with the backing of FSA fighters to clear Afrin in northwest Syria from the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (PYD) and its armed unit Kurdish Self-Defense Forces (YPG). Turkey considers the PYD and YPG as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for more than 30 years.
Turkey announced on Mar. 18 that it had seized control of the Afrin city centre, a day after the Kurdish militia decided to evacuate the majority of the civilian population in the city.
HRW interviewed in person two displaced people from the Afrin district, both of whom are now living in Qamishli, a city in northeast Syria under the control of the Kurdish militia. The two interviewees told HRW that FSA fighters had seized, destroyed, and looted their residential or commercial property and provided photos of their properties. HRW noted that neither property owner had been compensated.
Under the laws of war, pillaging, or forcibly taking private property for personal use is prohibited and can constitute a war crime even in the context of fighting in an area, as the HRW report states. De facto governing authorities are obliged to provide shelter for displaced families and other vulnerable people without adequate shelter in the territory they control, but they must not infringe on the owners’ property rights in doing so.
“Turkey and the FSA groups in Afrin should compensate displaced residents whose property they have seized, destroyed, or looted, and should not permanently deprive residents of their property. They have a duty to ensure that the property rights of the owners are protected and that they are able to return to their place of habitual residence in dignity and safety,” HRW added. Source
12 June 2018 - 110 youth abducted in Afrin: Fire opened on women
The abduction of people in Afrin has been going on since the Turkish army and its backed groups entered the city. The reports say 110 youth have been abducted in Mabata district of Afrin. A woman has been reportedly wounded after the group abducting the youth opened fire on the women demanding the youth to be released.
As the looting began in Afrin after the Turkish army and its backed groups entered the city is going on, the practices performed by Daesh such as abduction, sexual assault, forced marriage and obligation to wear burqas have been imposed on the people of Afrin. Hawar News Agency (ANHA) has reported from the region that 110 youth have been abducted after the house raids conducted in Mabata district of Afrin.
The report also notes that the abducted youth were subjected to torture. The women of the district protested the abduction in front of the headquarters of the groups. A woman has been reportedly wounded after the group members opened fire on the women.
The report also says the group members demanded 50,000 Syrian Pound for each abducted young person to release them; the young people gave this amount to the group members were released and those who didn’t gave the amount have been still held in the prison. The report also states that the abduction in the Mirkan and Kaxire villages of Mabata is going on.
Names of 38 of 110 abducted young people are as follows; Selahdîn Mihemed, Kamîran Eskotko, Misefa Reşîd Qilindir, Hisên Îşano, Hisên Hesen Bekir, Elî Mustefa Elûş, Hisên Birîm Bekir, Şêrgil Adlo, Mihemed Elî Şêxo, Abdîn Şêxo, Welat Şêxo, Dilo Qilindir, Abdîn Umer Qile, Elî Henan Hemzîno, Hêcan Hebeş, Ebdo Muxtar, Pêşwar Mihemed Elî, Xelîl Mihemed Elî, Cîhad Yûsif Fetûma, Hisên Hisên Mişko, Ferhad Hemaço, Gîvara Zekî Ehmed, Elûto Elûto, Reşîd Mûrad Qasim, Mûrad Reşîd Qasim, Mûrad Mûrad, Nedîm Arif, Kazim Arif, Cuma Qasê, Mihemd Qasê, Mihemd Qilindir, Elî Nûrî Mihemed (Ebû Nûrî), Hemîd Mihemed Elî, Xelîl Birîm Bekir, Remzî Şabo, Kamîran Şabo, Selah Şabo and Zihêr Şabo. Source
12 June 2018 - Turkish armored Vehicles in Afrin city intervenes to break up a new clash between factions of “Olive Branch” Operation
Aleppo province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored the renew of clashes in Afrin city northwest of Aleppo, between fighters of faction working in the area within “Olive Branch” Operation which is supported by Turkey, where clashes took place after midnight of yesterday in the city between members from “al-Sultan Mohammad al-Fatih” brigade; against members of “Ahrar al-Sharqiyyah”, accompanied by intense exchange of targeting between both parties which caused casualties among both of them, where the Turkish armored vehicles intervened to break up the clash which causes remain unknown until now, also Ahrar al-Sharqiyyah faction announced that it dismissed 2 of its battalions due to failure to comply with orders of the Assembly’s command; according to a statement the Syrian Observatory received a copy of, and the Syrian Observatory published on the 1st of June 2018 that Afrin city located in the northwestern sector of Aleppo province witnessed the return of clashes between fighters of factions operating in the area, and in the details obtained by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: violent clashes took place between fighters of al-Shamiyyah Front against fighters of an Arabian clan from the northeastern countryside of Aleppo during the last night, amid accusations by al-Shamiyyah Front for the Arab clan fighters of being loyal to the Kurdish Forces.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights published on the 28th of May 2018 that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored clashes by individual weapons after midnight of yesterday, between two rebel factions of “Olive Branch” Operation in Afrin city in the northwestern countryside of Aleppo, and in details obtained by the Syrian Observatory: the clashes took place near Kawa roundabout In Afrin city, between a group of al-Hamzah Division and a group of al-Mu’tasim Division, against the backdrop of a disagreement between both groups about the takeover of a residential houses in the area, followed by an intervention by the Turkish forces with their armor and breaking the dispute between both parties, but no information about casualties, and in the same context, the commander of the brigade “al-Shahid Mash’aal Tammo” survived an assassination attempt on the road of Afrin – Sharan after midnight of yesterday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights published on the 25th of May 2018 that Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored the sound of heavy gunfire in the area of Al-Villat today evening, Friday the 25th of May 2018, where the sound of gunfire was heard with alertness and great noise in the area where the headquarters of the rebel and Islamic factions operating within Operation “Olive Branch” are located, in Al-Villat area in Afrin city, after that, a column of the Turkish forces’ vehicles headed to the area of the gunshot, and sources suggested that the sound of the gunfire was caused as a result of new fighting between the factions controlling Afrin city, and the gunfire has seriously injured a child, where the Syrian Observatory obtained information two days ago from a number of reliable sources, about fighting started between a Kurdish faction operating within Operation “Olive Branch” against Jaysh Ahrar al-Sharqiyyah of which most of its fighters are from Deir Ezzor Province, led to exchange of fire which resulted in the fall of wounded in the ranks of the both parties, followed by intervention of the military police, which turned into a confrontation between Ahrar al-Sharqiyyah against the Turkish police, which pushed the latter to bring reinforcements to control the situation and security chaos in Afrin city which was caused by this fighting, where the city is still witnessing a state of security alertness and sound of sporadic shooting every now and then.
And the Syrian Observatory published on the 25th of March 2018, that it monitored clashes taking place between two Syrian opposition factions operating within the Turkish-led “Olive Branch” Operation, which began on the 20th of January 2018, to control Afrin area, and in the detail obtained by the SOHR from several reliable sources, a violent clashes took place between fighters of Ahrar Al-Sharkia faction, whose fighters mostly come from Deir Ezzor province, against Al-Hamzat battalion, which includes fighters from Aleppo countryside, and the fighting took place in Afrin city, after Ahrar al-Sharkia accused Al-Hamzat battalion of looting Afrin city based on orders from western parties, to defame the “Olive Branch” Operation, as Hamzat battalion was close to the SDF and was supported by the US before joining the Turkish-backed forces, and the SOHR learned at that time from several reliable sources that the violent clashes took place between both parties in Afrin city killed 3 fighters of Ahrar Al-Sharqkia, one of them is a leader, in addition to the death of 3 other fighters of Al-Hamzat battalion, while several others were injured.
31 May 2018 - Congress makes Afrin part of Turkish province
The Afrin Liberation Congress, held under Turkey's auspices following the capture of the region of Afrin in Syria by Turkish and Free Syrian Army forces, has announced that the region will be governed as part of the Turkish province of Antakya, independent news site T24 said .
The region will also establish a 450-person police force, the congress decided, and a governor and local governor will be appointed by Turkey’s central government.
Around 100 individuals from the region took part in the congress in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, and elected a 35-person assembly made up of 24 Kurds, eight Arabs, one Alawite, one Yezidi and one Turkmen, spokesperson Hasan Shindi said.
“Turkey here is proceeding with a dual structure,” legal scholar Vahap Coşkun was quoted as saying.
“On the one hand, it is highlighting a delegation chosen by representatives of the people there and they are taking a role in the everyday administration (of the area). On the other, Turkey is appointing one of its own bureaucrats there in order to achieve general co-ordination.”
However, according to international law, the province must continue to follow Syrian law as it remains legally part of Syria. Source
Turkey neutralizes 4,475 terrorists in Syria’s Afrin
More than 4,400 terrorists have been “neutralized” in Syria’s Afrin region so far since the start of the Turkish-led Operation Olive Branch, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday.
Speaking at his ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party’s rally in eastern Erzurum province, Erdogan said: “4,475 terrorists have been neutralized in Afrin so far.”
Turkish authorities often use the word "neutralized" in their statements to imply that the terrorists in question either surrendered or were killed or captured. Source
Turkish army finds new PKK/PYD munition depot in Afrin
23 May 2018
As part of its efforts, the army found a new ammunition depot in the region. Turkish military shared photos of the depot and ammunition on social media. The army was also continuing to support aid efforts carried out by Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) and Turkish Red Crescent also known as “Kizilay” in the region.
Thanks to the support of Turkish soldiers, the military statement said, AFAD has distributed aid among 6,000 people in 52 residential areas in Afrin over the past week. Turkey on Jan. 20 launched Operation Olive Branch to remove YPG/P Source
21 May 2018 - Video: PYD militiamen (YPG) open fire at the بينه checkpoint near Shiroa شيراوا Aleppo, blocking thousands of Kurds from returning to their homes in Afrin
16 May 2018 - Afrin won't be returned to Syrian regime, Turkey says
It is completely inconceivable to return Afrin back to the control of the Syrian regime, Deputy Prime Minister Recep Akdağ said yesterday.
Speaking in an interview with German Die Welt yesterday, Minister Akdağ said that Turkey has two aims in Syria: security for Turkey, its borders as well as the Syrian people and a democratic environment in Syria with free elections and sustainable development.
"A free and democratic Syria can only be built without [Bashar] Assad. He has killed many of his fellow citizens and brought much suffering to his country," Akdağ said.
He underlined that Turkey does not want to settle in Afrin for the long term and its only goal is to defend Turkey's security in the fight against Kurdish terrorist groups like the PKK and its Syrian wing the People's Protection Units (YPG), and to return the area to the Syrian people as soon as possible.
"We want to give Afrin back to the local population, who should be there to decide for themselves. A local Afrin council has been set up, which is a decision-making body with local representatives. Therein also Kurds sit," he added, while indicating that Turkey has no problem whatsoever with the Kurdish, Arab and Turkish populations living in Afrin together.
He was talking about the recently established local council of 30 members in the Afrin Liberation Congress with the participation of over 100 people. The congress decided to meet regularly and will be monitored by nongovernmental organizations.
The council also decided to request the disarmament of the public and to form a security force that is not aligned with any party.
The most important criterion that will help secure the future of Afrin is that anyone who has had affiliation with the PKK and YPG will not be allowed to take part in the administration of the province.
Due to growing threats in the region, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch in late January to clear the YPG and Daesh terrorist groups from Afrin.
The operation is being carried out under the framework of Turkey's rights based on international law, U.N. Security Council resolutions, its self-defense rights under the U.N. charter and respect for Syria's territorial integrity, according to the Turkish military.
Although it was announced on March 18 that Afrin was cleared of YPG terrorists, the operation is carrying on as the armed forces continue to clear mines and other explosives planted by the terrorist organization before they fled villages in rural parts of the region as well as the town center.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet on June 4 in Washington D.C., a diplomatic source said yesterday.
The two top diplomats had planned to meet in May but their schedules could not match up, said the source on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on talking to the media.
Matters pertaining to bilateral ties, regional issues, including Syria and recent developments in the Middle East, combating terrorism, and terror groups like the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) will be discussed during the meeting, the source added.
On April 27, Çavuşoglu and Pompeo held a bilateral meeting during the NATO foreign ministers summit in Brussels.
Turkey and the U.S. have established working groups to discuss the stabilization of Manbij, Syria and to prevent any undesirable clashes.
Both nations have been trying to iron out a number of issues, principally the issue of terrorist PKK and its Syrian affiliate the People's Protection Units (YPG) which the U.S. supports as a "reliable ally" in the fight against Daesh.
Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar also met with his U.S. counterpart General Joseph Dunford during the NATO Military Committee chiefs of defense meeting in Brussels yesterday. The two discussed bilateral relations as well as the situation in Syria and the Middle East. Source
Religious minorities in Afrin forced to convert to Islam – U.S. think-tank
Rebel groups in Syria’s Afrin region are forcing religious minorities to convert to Islam according to an article published on Washington based think-tank Gatestone Institute's website by Syrian-Kurdish journalist Sirwan Kanjo.
Christians, Yazidis and Alawites minorities have been forcibly converted to Islam, Yazidi Temples destroyed and women forced to adhere to strict Muslim dress codes since the takeover, Kanjo says. At the same time, Turkey has embarked on a campaign to displaceKurds and religious minorities from the region and replace them with Sunni Turkmen and Arab families.
Kanjo also suggests that the Turkish government and its jihadi allies in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are discussing formalizing the implementation of Islamic sharia law in Afrin. Source
4,448 terrorists 'neutralized' in Turkey's Afrin op
The number of "neutralized" terrorists in Turkey's operation in northwestern Afrin, Syria has risen to 4,448, while eight terrorists were also neutralized in operations over the past week in northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey, the Turkish army said on Friday.
In a written statement, the Turkish General Staff announced the latest number of neutralized terrorists since the Jan. 20 start of Operation Olive Branch.
Turkish authorities often use the word "neutralized" in their statements to imply that the terrorists in question either surrendered or were killed or captured. Source
Turkish charity sends 20 trucks of aid to Syria
A Turkish aid agency on Monday sent 20 truckloads of humanitarian aid to areas of Syria cleared of terrorists by Turkey's Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations.
Yakup Alaca, an official at the Istanbul-based Humanitarian Relief Foundation’s (IHH) southern Kilis office, told Anadolu Agency that the aid was collected with the support of philanthropists and it will be distributed in safe areas cleared of terror in Syria.
Alaca said 15 truckloads will be sent to Afrin in northwestern Syria and five trucks to nearby Idlib.
"Our trucks are loaded with a lot of materials like flour, eggplant, potatoes, and clothes," Alaca added.
Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 this year to clear YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin, northwestern Syria amid growing threats from the region.
On March 18, Turkish-backed troops liberated Afrin’s town center, which had been a major hideout for YPG/PKK terrorists since 2012. Source
Turkey slams ‘unfounded’ statement by US on Afrin
The Foreign Ministry on Saturday denied reports that citizens of Afrin were allegedly not being allowed back in their homes.
“The U.S. State Department spokeswoman has made unfortunate statements based on unconfirmed assumptions under the influence of PYD/YPG terrorist organization’s smear campaign in a news conference on May 3,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement.
U.S. State Department's Heather Nauert claimed the citizens of Afrin "are not being allowed back in their homes and communities"; however, sources on the ground dismissed the claim and said the return of locals to their homes was continuing in areas that had been cleared of mines and improvised explosives.
“First of all, it is the PYD/YPG that prevents local people from returning to Afrin,” Aksoy said.
The PYD/YPG is trying to produce new material in its smear campaign against Turkey, while the fact is explosives and mines planted by the terror group are a threat to the citizens and preventing them from going back home, he said.
“Turkey continues its efforts to normalize the situation in Afrin and to facilitate the safe return of local people,” Aksoy added.
"The humanitarian situation in Afrin being [described as] a ‘deep concern’ under the current circumstances is completely unfounded. The actual source of concern in northern Syria is the ongoing cooperation between countries we deem as our allies and PKK/PYD/YPG terrorists.”
Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 this year to clear the YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorist groups from Afrin, amid growing threats from the region.
The operation is being carried out under the framework of Turkey’s rights based on international law, UN Security Council resolutions, its self-defense rights under the UN charter, and respect for Syria's territorial integrity, according to the Turkish military.
On March 18, Turkish troops and Free Syrian Army members liberated the town of Afrin, on the 58th day of the operation. Source
4,406 terrorists 'neutralized' during Afrin operation
President Erdogan gives latest figures of neutralized terrorists in Turkey's ongoing Operation Olive Branch
Speaking during an ordinary congress of his ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party's women branch in central Kayseri province, Erdogan said the military operations would continue against all terror groups.
Turkish authorities often use the word "neutralized" in their statements to imply that the terrorists in question either surrendered or were killed or captured. Source
Syrian Kurdish forces threaten families of Turkey’s allies in Afrin
4 May 2018
The YPG controlled Afrin, in northwest Syria, until the Turkish military operation took over the district in March.
Turkish forces, alongside their FSA allies, said it had killed more than 4,000 YPG and Islamic State (ISIS) fighters during the operation.
“The terrorist named Jamal al-Zakhlool, who was responsible for organising the placement of terrorists and their families brought to Afrin from various places in Syria, and who had been being followed by our forces, was killed in the organised action,” the YPG statement said.
“Yesterday our forces have carried out an attack against Al-Zakhlool’s vehicle in the area between Kurzalah and Basutah villages which resulted in the death of Al-Zakhlool and all of the terrorists with him,” it said. “Gangs, who wanted to intervene after the operation, were also targeted by our forces, three more terrorists were killed and two military vehicles were destroyed as a result of the successful actions.”
However, their guerrilla tactics would not merely be deployed against the FSA, but also against Syrians resettled in Afrin by the Turkish government in what the YPG consider to be a campaign to change the demographics of the region by ethnic cleansing.
“Recalling the earlier statements we issued regarding the attempts by Turkey and its terrorists to demographically change the region by settling terrorists and their families in the city after the people of Afrin have been displaced, we once again stress that settling of these families in Afrin is illegitimate in terms of fundamental human rights and is a clear violation of international law,” the statement said.
“We reiterate that these terrorists and their families are the main targets of our forces. Our forces will target all the elements in the Afrin Canton that are in contact or cooperation with the Turkish invasion state.” Source
4,376 terrorists 'neutralized' in Turkey’s Afrin op
379 terrorists killed in northern Iraq; 297 in Cudi, Gabar and Tendurek, says President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
"Number of terrorists that were neutralized in Afrin was 4,376. In northern Iraq 379, while 297 in [Turkey's] Cudi, Gabar and Tendurek," Erdogan said during the opening ceremony of Istanbul's historic Spice Bazaar after restoration works. Source
Turkish soldier martyred in Syria’s Afrin
A Turkish soldier was martyred in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region on Thursday during the military’s sweep and clear activities, a statement said.
In the statement, the Turkish General Staff said the soldier was martyred in Afrin region when an improvised explosive detonated during the military’s sweep and clear activities. Source
Infighting between Turkish-backed Ahrar Sharqiyah and
U.S. concerned over 140,000 displaced by Turkey's Syria operation
Ilhan Tanir - May 04 2018
The United States said some 140,000 people had been displaced by the Turkish-led cross-border offensive to seize Syria’s district of Afrin from Syrian Kurdish forces and said Washington had grave concerns about the resulting humanitarian situation.
Turkish troops backed by their Syrian allies seized Afrin in March after a two-month operation against Syrian Kurdish forces that Ankara says are linked to Kurdish militants fighting inside Turkey. Thousands of Afrin residents, as well as those who had previously sought shelter there from fighting elsewhere in Syria, fled Afrin in the face of the Turkish advance.
“One hundred and forty thousand people have been displaced from Afrin, and ... as far as we can tell, they are not being allowed back in to their homes and communities,” U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a news briefing.
“We have expressed grave concern about the humanitarian situation in Afrin over recent weeks and months. That remains a concern of ours today,” she said.
It was the first time a U.S. official had publicly pointed the finger at Turkey for preventing people from going back to their homes.
“We call on all relevant actors operating in the northwest – that includes Turkey, that includes Russia, that also includes Syria – to provide access for international humanitarian aid organizations and to allow for people to come home,” Nauert said.
Tensions between NATO allies Turkey and the United States have risen over a number of issues in recent months, particularly over U.S. backing for the Syrian Kurdish group that Turkish forces drove out of Afrin, but also Ankara’s shift towards Russia and spats over the arrest of U.S. citizens and consular staff in Turkey.
Nauert was asked whether the administration supported a bill proposed in the Senate to block the sale of U.S. F-35 advanced fighter jets to Turkey due to Turkey’s worsening human rights conditions and purchase of Russian-made S-400 air defence missiles. She said the administration does not comment on legislation under discussion, “but I can tell you that we have had serious concerns about Turkey’s potential acquisition of the S-400 system”.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, last week following his first meeting with the new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels, said the purchase of the S-400s was a done deal, but said Turkey was open to talks with the United States.
Nauert said: “Under the NATO agreement, which of course, Turkey is a NATO member, they are only supposed to buy, weapons and other material that are interoperable with other NATO partners. We don’t see that as being interoperable. We obviously, though, have a robust defence trade relationship with the government of Turkey, and we will continue to raise our concerns with them on any kind of pending sales or anything of that nature.”
Nauert began her briefing on Thursday by reading a statement to commemorate World Press Freedom Day. While recognising the crucial role of the press around the globe, Nauert mentioned Turkey, along with Cuba, Burma, Egypt and China as countries where journalists have been detained for their reporting.
“There are more journalists jailed in Turkey than in any other country around the world. That is a tremendous concern. We believe that more voices rather than fewer voices being heard helps advance a democratic society and helps give people voice to their concerns,” she said later in response to a question.
“We support the goal of improved media freedom in Turkey; we’ve discussed that a lot here at the State Department. We raise the issue – I want to tell you – directly with the Turkish government on many occasions. We continue to highlight that. We also do it not only face to face with our counterparts but also through various multilateral institutions. So thank you for highlighting that, and we’ll continue to raise our concerns with press freedom in Turkey and elsewhere,” she said.
“In Turkey, for example, some of our – some of your colleagues here, if they were to head home to Turkey, they would be arrested. Why? In part, because of the job that they are doing each and every day.” Source
'By what law?' Kurds locked out of Afrin as Ghouta refugees take their place
Locals in northwest Syria say empty Kurdish homes are being seized by Turkish-backed fighters and given to displaced Arab families.
Hassan and the other passengers in his convoy, coming from Eastern Ghouta’s central sector, arrived in rebel-held Idlib city on 25 March. There, they found a city under bombardment and already bursting at the seams with displaced civilians.
So, Hassan picked up his family one week after arriving in Idlib and continued north to relatively calm Afrin – where he said a hero’s welcome awaited.
Rows of vacant houses sat waiting to be distributed, free of charge, to displaced civilians escaping the devastation of Ghouta, said 29-year-old Hassan. A member of a local group affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) told him that one of the houses was now his, if he only chose to take it.
However, the alleged offer was not an innocent gesture of charity, and these homes were not abandoned voluntarily. They were the spoils of war, the property of Kurds who were displaced from Afrin in recent months by widespread bombing and ground fighting during Turkish-backed Operation Olive Branch.
However, civilian and military sources in Afrin say that “dozens” of other Eastern Ghouta families, with few other options, have moved into the vacant homes.
The Syrian government’s seizure of Eastern Ghouta in mid-April sent thousands of newly homeless residents to the opposition-held north in a series of evacuations.
There, some of the displaced have been resettled in the empty houses of Kurdish residents who fled Afrin in recent months before advancing Turkish and FSA forces. Several witnesses in Afrin, as well as displaced Kurdish homeowners, told Syria Direct in recent days that private residences are being seized and given away by Turkish-backed militias.
One Kurdish FSA commander in Afrin, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the accounts of home seizures and redistribution to Arab families this month.
“We, the Kurdish component [in the FSA], are trying to work against this with all our energy,” the commander told Syria Direct. “But we are in the minority.”
Turkey launched its Operation Olive Branch in January, in coordination with some 25,000 FSA-affiliated rebels, with the stated aim of “eliminating terrorists” in Afrin. Prior to the operation, Afrin was largely governed by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing the People's Protection Units (YPG), which is a member of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Ankara considers the PYD to be an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged an armed insurgency inside Turkey for decades.
Turkish-backed forces captured most of Afrin from the YPG in mid-March, following months of clashes, air strikes and artillery fire that caused hundreds of civilian deaths, destroyed villages and shattered much of the area’s infrastructure.
By what law?’
More than 137,000 Afrin residents remain displaced outside their cities and villages as a result of the Turkish military campaign, leaving entire neighbourhoods vacant and thousands of houses unprotected from looting and illegal seizures, according to Sara Kiyyali, Syrian researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“A lot of those houses are empty right now,” she told Syria Direct this month. “They were primarily Kurdish residents... [and many] are uncomfortable returning to live under Turkish control.”
Muhammad Balou, a PYD supporter who fled Afrin during the Turkish-backed campaign and is now living in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, is one of those residents. He says his family back in Afrin regularly updates him about the fate of his apartment there.
Last week, Balou received word that the lock on his front door was broken and a family from Eastern Ghouta moved into the residence he had spent a lifetime saving for.
“I worked many years to buy my apartment in Afrin, and even took out a loan,” he told Syria Direct. “Now people have entered and begun living there. By what law, I don’t know.”
After losing his home to an Arab family from Eastern Ghouta, Balou says he does not know if or when he may be able to return to Afrin.
“My decision to get out of my city and not to return to it was the right one,” he says. “I am known for my opposition to Operation Olive Branch and to the Turks.”
When Turkish-backed Syrian forces seized Afrin city in mid-March, the chaos was marked by ominous episodes of ethnic symbolism, as fighters tore down a statue of the legendary Kurdish hero Kawa and raised the Turkish flag over the battered skyline. Source
Turkish groups set up tents for refugees from eastern Ghouta in Afrin
In northwestern Syria's Afrin, Turkish aid agencies have set up 200 shelters for refugees from eastern Ghouta. Here they will be provided with food and medical services.
Güllüoğlu said that there are nearly 650 families temporarily living around Afrin's Muhammediyye district, adding that over 20,000 refugees from Eastern Ghouta have been evacuated since March to areas liberated by Turkey's Operation Euphrates Shield. Nearly 1,080,000 Syrians are currently living in the Euphrates Shield area, and 193,723 of them are in camps, Mehmet Güllüoğlu had said in April. Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield on Aug. 24, 2016, to clear Daesh terrorists from the northern Syrian towns of Jarablous, al-Rai, Dabiq and al-Bab. The operation had ended in March 2017, with about a 2,000 kilometer-square area cleared from the terrorists.
Home to some 400,000 residents, Eastern Ghouta has remained under a crippling regime siege for the last five years, which has prevented the delivery of much-needed humanitarian supplies.
"We are working to return Afrin residents to Afrin, Azaz to Azaz, and Al-Bab to Al-Bab, but since the war is ongoing, going back is difficult, we're doing our best," he said. Güllüoğlu also said that despite the efforts and hard work to reach out to those in need, women, the elderly and children's situations are particularly severe.
Previously held by the PKK terrorist organization's Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG), Afrin was recently liberated by Turkish military and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Operation Olive Branch. The operation was launched on Jan. 20 and ended on March 18. Since then, efforts have been exerted to bring life back to normal in the province, from clearing the planted explosives by the terrorists to rebuilding the infrastructure in the province.
The aid groups also distributed 5 tons of fruits and vegetables with over 1,000 packets of chocolates and 710 packets of biscuits and cakes to orphans living in the area.
Meanwhile, the İHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, a non-profit NGO from Turkey, has also stretched its helping hand to those evacuated from eastern Ghotua to the rural areas of Idlib. IHH has set up about 500 tents in a village in rural Idlib, to address the needs, including medical needs, of Syrian's evacuated from eastern Ghouta.
On Feb. 24, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted Resolution 2401, which called for a cease-fire in Syria, especially in Eastern Ghouta, to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Despite the resolution, however, the regime and its allies in early March launched a major ground offensive, backed by Russian forces, aimed at capturing opposition-held parts of the district.
Since Feb. 19, nearly 1,500 people have been killed in attacks by the regime and its allies in Eastern Ghouta, according to local civil defense sources.
AFAD and the Red Crescent had previously set up camp for 3,000 people around the Turkey-Syria border for people fleeing airstrikes in the eastern and southern countryside of Idlib by Assad regime forces.
Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Bashar Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests, which erupted as part of the Arab Spring uprisings, with unexpected ferocity. Since then, more than a quarter of a million people have been killed and more than 10 million displaced across the war-battered country, according to United Nations figures. Source
Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army factions arrested independent Kurdish journalist Ahmad Shafia Bilal in Afrin. Ahmad was previously arrested by both the Assad government and YPG for covering their abuses.