Dozens killed as Turkey ramps up Syria of­fen­sive

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Worldwide -

BEIRUT — Dozens of peo­ple were killed in Turk­ish bom­bard­ment in Syria on Sun­day as Ankara ramped up its un­prece­dented of­fen­sive in­side the coun­try against the Is­lamic State group and Kur­dish mil­i­tants.

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said at least 40 civil­ians had been killed in Turk­ish shelling and air strikes on two ar­eas held by pro-Kur­dish forces in north­ern Syria, the first re­port of sig­nif­i­cant civil­ian casualties in Turkey’s op­er­a­tion.

But Ankara said its raids had killed 25 Kur­dish “ter­ror­ists” and that the army was do­ing ev­ery­thing to avoid civil­ian casualties.

The bom­bard­ments came af­ter Ankara suf­fered its first mil­i­tary fa­tal­ity in the of­fen­sive against ISIS and the Syr­ian Kur­dish Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG) mili­tia it launched on Wed­nes­day.

The Ob­ser­va­tory said at least 20 civil­ians were killed and 50 wounded in Turk­ish ar­tillery fire and air strikes on the vil­lage of Jeb el-Kussa early on Sun­day.

An­other 20 were killed and 25 wounded, many se­ri­ously, in Turk­ish air strikes near the town of Al-Amarneh, it added.

The mon­i­tor also said at least four Kur­dish fight­ers had been killed and 15 in­jured in Turk­ish bom­bard­ment of the two ar­eas.

A spokesper­son for the lo­cal Kur­dish ad­min­is­tra­tion said 75 civil­ians had been killed in both vil­lages

But the Turk­ish army said it had killed 25 Kur­dish “ter­ror­ists” from Turkey’s out­lawed Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party (PKK) and Syria’s YPG, state-run Anadolu news agency said.

“All possible mea­sures are be­ing taken to pre­vent harm to the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion liv­ing in the area and the max­i­mum sen­si­tiv­ity is be­ing shown on this is­sue,” the army said, quoted by Anadolu.

The Ob­ser­va­tory said the bom­bard­ment tar­geted an area south of the for­mer ISIS bor­der strong­hold of Jarab­u­lus, which Turk­ish-led forces cap­tured on the first day of the in­cur­sion.

Turk­ish-backed rebels say they have cap­tured at least nine towns and vil­lages, in­clud­ing Jarab­u­lus, from ISIS and Kur­dish forces since Wed­nes­day.

In a state­ment Satur­day, Kur­dish forces ac­cused Ankara of seek­ing to “ex­pand its oc­cu­pa­tion” in­side Syria.

Ankara’s mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in Syria has added an­other di­men­sion to the coun­try’s com­plex mul­ti­front war, a dev­as­tat­ing con­flict that has killed more than 290 000 peo­ple and forced mil­lions from their homes since it be­gan in March 2011.

Much of the heav­i­est fighting this sum­mer has fo­cused on sec­ond city Aleppo, which is roughly di­vided be­tween rebel forces and Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s troops.

Global pow­ers have been push­ing for 48-hour hu­man­i­tar­ian cease­fires in the em­bat­tled city and UN Syria en­voy Staffan de Mis­tura has urged war­ring par­ties to an­nounce by Sun­day whether they will com­mit to a pause in the fighting.

The UN says it has “pre-po­si­tioned” aid to go to the city for some 80 000 peo­ple.

Rus­sia, which backs As­sad’s forces, has en­dorsed the pro­posal.

But some rebel groups have re­jected the plan un­less aid passes through op­po­si­tion-held ar­eas and the cease­fire ap­plies to other ar­eas of Syria un­der siege.

Op­po­si­tion groups have re­peat­edly called for an end to regime sieges of rebel-held ar­eas, ac­cus­ing As­sad’s govern­ment of us­ing “starve or sur­ren­der” tac­tics.

On Satur­day, the last rebel fight­ers were evac­u­ated from the town of Daraya just out­side Da­m­as­cus, un­der a deal that fol­lowed a bru­tal four-year govern­ment siege.

Hun­dreds of fight­ers and their fam­i­lies were bussed north into rebel-held ter­ri­tory in Idlib province, with other civil­ians trans­ferred to govern­ment ter­ri­tory near Da­m­as­cus for re­set­tle­ment.

The Syr­ian army said it was in com­plete con­trol of the town, from which roughly 8 000 civil­ians were due to be evac­u­ated. — Al Jazeera

Peter Fred­erik­sen

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