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War Crimes Committed By Turkish Proxy Militias In Syria: UN Investigation
South Front, Sep 20 2020

A militant hauls off stolen goods in Afrin during the Turkish invasion of Mar 2018

The UNHRC has called on Turkey to launch an immediate investigation into violations and abuses committed in parts of north, northwest and northeast Syria. The relevant areas are under the control of Turkish military forces and affiliated armed groups. Speaking late last week of the findings of a UN report released several days earlier, the director of the UN agency, Michelle Bachelet, warned that the human rights situation in places such as Afrin, Ras al-Ain and Tel Abyad is grim, with many cases of unchecked violence and criminality.

The UN statement comments that an alarming pattern of grave violations has been documented in these areas in recent months, such as increased killings, kidnappings, and unlawful transfers of people, as well as seizures of land and properties. Victims include those perceived to be allied with opposing parties, or critical of Turkish-affiliated armed groups, or rich enough to pay ransoms. Ms Bachelet said:

People living in these areas whose rights have been violated are entitled to protection and a remedy. In this regard, I urge Turkey to immediately launch an impartial, transparent and independent investigation into the incidents we have verified, account for the fate of those detained and abducted by the affiliated armed groups, and hold accountable those responsible for what may, in some instances, amount to crimes under international law, including war crimes. This is all the more vital given that we have received disturbing reports that some detainees and abductees have allegedly been transferred to Turkey following their detention in Syria by affiliated armed groups.

In the course of the latest investigation, the UNHRC has verified that since January at least 116 civilians were killed, and some 463 injured, by IEDs and explosive remnants of war. Those killed included 15 women and 22 children. Investigators also documented the abduction and disappearance of civilians, including women and children. The fate of some of them remains unknown. At the same time, a rise in infighting among the different armed groups in the occupied areas over power-sharing and resources poses a grave threat to civilian lives and civilian infrastructure. The UN statement further notes:

Turkish-affiliated armed groups have also seized and looted homes, land and other properties without any apparent military necessity, and have occupied many of them with their own families. Ms Bachelet remains concerned that warring parties in Syria are using water, electricity and other essential services as a weapon. She cited the example of Turkish-affiliated armed groups disrupting water supply in Ras al-Ain, affecting access for up to one million people, including displaced people living in camps. Similarly, the Kurdish-led SDF, which controls al-Hassakeh, has been accused of hindering electricity supplies for the pumping station. Ms Bachelet said: “As we have previously warned, impeding access to water, sanitation and electricity endangers the lives of large numbers of people, a danger rendered all the more acute amid fighting a global pandemic.”

The report covered the first half of the current year and was published on Tuesday by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria. The report states that militants of the so-called Syrian National Army, also known as the Free Syrian Army, have detained civilians and transferred them to Turkey for prosecution, adding that such acts could amount to the war crime of unlawful deportation. The panel also warned that assassinations and rapes of civilians were increasing in occupied areas in Syria’s north. Panel chair Paulo Pinheiro told a news briefing:

In Afrin, Ra’s al-Ayn and the surrounding areas, the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army may have committed the war crimes of hostage-taking, cruel treatment, torture, and rape. Turkey should act to prevent these abuses and ensure the protection of civilians in the areas under its control.

Panelist Hanny Megally said:

Turkey wields influence over militants affiliated with the so-called Syrian National Army as it has funded, trained, and allowed the terrorists to enter Syria from Turkish territory. Whilst we can’t say Turkey is in charge of them and issues orders and has command control over them, we think that it could use its influence much more to bring them in to check and certainly to pressure them to desist from the violations being committed and to investigate them.

Turkey seized control of the border town of Ras al-Ain last year when it launched a cross-border invasion into north-eastern Syria with the help of its armed proxy groups to push Kurdish militants affiliated with the so-called People’s Protection Units (YPG) away from border areas. The Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union has also denounced the frequent attacks by the Turkish military and allied militants against Syrian civilians and territories. Turkey has sent thousands of troops and heavy military hardware into Idlib and other areas in northern Syria over the last two years to support the armed militant groups. The Syrian government has vowed to liberate all of its national territory from the invaders, including Idlib, which remains the last major bastion for foreign-backed Takfiri terrorists in the country. Syria has repeatedly denounced Turkey’s military activities in the Arab state as a violation of its sovereignty, urging Turkey to withdraw its troops and stop backing the armed militant groups. There have been many reports of such incidents since the conflict in Syria intensified, often corresponding to major military offensives. For example, BBC reported in Mar 2018 in the midst of a major Turkish offensive into northern Syria:

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels who seized the northern Syrian city of Afrin from a Kurdish militia on Sunday have been looting properties, reports say. A UK-based monitoring group said shops and military and government facilities had been raided. A rebel commander blamed ‘thieves’ for the looting and said a unit had been set up to prevent further incidents. Pictures showed soldiers flying a Turkish flag from a building, and rebels tearing down a statue of the Kurdish hero Kawa Haddad. AFP news agency journalists in Afrin also saw rebels break into shops, restaurants and houses, and leave with food, electronic equipment, blankets and other goods. They were then transported out of the city. Turkey’s president vowed to expand its military campaign to all Kurdish-held border areas to the east. Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara: “The military operation will go on until the terror corridor through Manbij, Ain al-Arab [Kobane], Tal Abyad, Ras al-Ain, Qamishli has been wiped out.” Erdogan described the fall of Afrin following a two-month offensive as a “comma” in its efforts to counter the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia.

Occupying Turkish military forces and proxy militia groups have also been accused of plundering other valuable resources from occupied areas, including olive oil and wheat, industrial machinery and in some cases entire factories. LINK1, LINK2, LINK3. As it has habitually done, Turkey denied the findings of the investigation.

Turkey has denied charges levelled by UN investigators who say that Syrian rebels backed by Ankara carried out possible war crimes this year. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said Friday in response: “We categorically reject the baseless allegations of human rights violations claimed against the Syrian opposition, and concerning our country in relation to them.”

Turkey has taken advantage of the intense conflict in Syria to invade and occupy vast swathes of territory along the two countries’ border. While it claims it has invaded only to push back Kurdish militia groups and establish a buffer zone, all indications suggest that the Turkish political and military leadership have no intention of leaving the occupied areas.

Russian Warplanes Rain Hell On Greater Idlib: 30 Airstrikes Hit Militant Positions In Few Hours
South Front, Sep 20 2020

On Sep 20, warplanes of the Russian Aerospace Forces carried out 28 airstrikes on the northwestern Syrian region of Greater Idlib. The Russian airstrikes targeted the following areas:

  • The western outskirts of Idlib’s city center;
  • The town of Arab Said in the western countryside of Idlib;
  • The town of Batitiyah in the northern countryside of Idlib.

According to the London-based SOHR, the targeted areas host several training camps and headquarters of HTS and other jihadi groups.

Photos released by opposition activists revealed that the heavy airstrikes were carried out by Su-34s and Su-24s fighter bombers.

The airstrikes were likely a response to recent provocations by the HTS-led al-Faith al-Mubeen Operations Room. A day earlier, the operations room shelled Syrian Arab Army positions in the southern part of the al-Zawya Mount, the town of Hizareen and Ma`arat al-Nu`man city. The ceasefire agreement in Greater Idlib, which was signed on Mar 5, appears to be on the brink of collapse. The last round of Russian-Turkish talks on the region saw a serious disagreement between the two sides.

Newly-Deployed US Bradley Fighting Vehicles Began Operations In North-Eastern Syria
South Front, Sep 20 2020

The US military’s M2A2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) which have been recently deployed in northwestern Syria began conducting operations. On Sep 20, the US-led coalition released photos of the recently deployed IFVs moving in the region, where they will be used to guard important oil fields and production facilities. The coalition said on Twitter:

The deployment of the M2A2 Bradleys was announced earlier this week. The IFVs arrived in Jabal Ghul airstrip in the western al-Hasakah countryside on Sep 19.

US forces will likely use this Bradleys to confront Russian troops in north-eastern Syria. The region experienced several confrontations between the two sides in the last few months. In one of the most recent incidents, seven U.S. service members were injured when a heavy Russian armored vehicle hit their light vehicle. The M2A2 Bradley is armed with a 25 mm chain gun, a 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun and a dual TOW anti-tank guided missile launcher. This makes the IFV the heaviest weapon deployed by the US in north-eastern Syria.

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