The New Humanitarian | Syria-Turkey briefing : The fallout of an invasion for civilians

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  • Syria-Turkey briefing: The fallout of an invasion for civilians

    Humanitarians are warning that a Turkish invasion in northeast Syria could force hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes, as confusion reigns over its possible timing, scope, and consequences.

    Panos Moumtzis, the UN’s regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, told reporters in Geneva on Monday that any military operation must guard against causing further displacement. “We are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst,” he said, noting that an estimated 1.7 million people live in the country’s northeast.

    Some residents close to the Syria-Turkey border are already leaving, one aid worker familiar with the situation on the ground told The New Humanitarian. Most are staying with relatives in nearby villages for the time-being, said the aid worker, who asked to remain anonymous in order to continue their work.

    The number of people who have left their homes so far remains relatively small, the aid worker said, but added: “If there is an incursion, people will leave.”

    The International Rescue Committee said “a military offensive could immediately displace at least 300,000 people”, but analysts TNH spoke to cautioned that the actual number would depend on Turkey’s plans, which remain a major unknown.

    As the diplomatic and security communities struggle to get a handle on what’s next, the same goes for humanitarians in northeastern Syria – and the communities they are trying to serve.

    Here’s what we know, and what we don’t:
    What just happened?

    Late on Sunday night, the White House said that following a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, “Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria,” adding that US soldiers would not be part of the move, and “will no longer be in the immediate area”.

    The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – the Syrian-Kurdish-led militia that until now had been supported by the United States and played a major role in wresting territory back from the so-called Islamic State (IS) group in Syria – vowed to stand its ground in the northeast.

    An SDF spokesperson tweeted that the group “will not hesitate to turn any unprovoked attack by Turkey into an all-out war on the entire border to DEFEND ourselves and our people”.

    Leading Republicans in the US Congress criticised President Donald Trump’s decision, saying it represents an abandonment of Kurdish allies in Syria, and the Pentagon appeared both caught off-guard and opposed to a Turkish incursion.

    Since then, Trump has tweeted extensively on the subject, threatening to “totally destroy and obliterate the economy of Turkey” if the country does anything he considers to be “off limits”.

    On the ground, US troops have moved out of two key observation posts on the Turkey-Syria border, in relatively small numbers: estimates range from 50 to 150 of the total who would have been shifted, out of around 1,000 US soldiers in the country.
    What is Turkey doing?

    Erdogan has long had his sights on a “safe zone” inside Syria, which he has said could eventually become home to as many as three million Syrian refugees, currently in Turkey.

    Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said in August that only 17 percent of Turkey’s estimated 3.6 million Syrian refugees come from the northeast of the country, which is administered by the SDF and its political wing.

    Turkish and US forces began joint patrols of a small stretch of the border early last month. While Turkey began calling the area a “safe zone”, the United States referred to it as a “security mechanism”. The terms of the deal were either never made public or not hammered out.

    In addition to any desire to resettle refugees, which might only be a secondary motive, Turkey wants control of northeast Syria to rein in the power of the SDF, which it considers to be a terrorist organisation.

    One of the SDF’s main constituent parts are People’s Defense Units – known by their Kurdish acronym YPG.

    The YPG are an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK – a Turkey-based Kurdish separatist organisation that has conducted an insurgency against the Turkish government for decades, leading to a bloody crackdown.

    While rebels fight for the northwest, and Russian-backed Syrian government forces control most of the rest of Syria, the SDF currently rules over almost all of Hassakeh province, most of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor provinces, and a small part of Aleppo province.
    How many civilians are at risk?

    There has not been a census in Syria for years, and numbers shift quickly as people flee different pockets of conflict. This makes estimating the number of civilians in northeast Syria very difficult.

    The IRC said in its statement it is “deeply concerned about the lives and livelihoods of the two million civilians in northeast Syria”; Moumtzis mentioned 1.7 million people; and Save the Children said “there are 1.65 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in this area, including more than 650,000 displaced by war”.

    Of those who have had to leave their homes in Raqqa, Deir Ezzor, and Hassakeh, only 100,000 are living in camps, according to figures from the International Committee of the Red Cross. Others rent houses or apartments, and some live in unfinished buildings or tents.

    “While many commentators are rightly focusing on the security implications of this policy reversal, the humanitarian implications will be equally enormous,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, and a former high-ranking Obama administration aid official.

    “All across Northern Syria, hundreds of thousands of displaced and conflict-affected people who survived the horrors of the… [IS] era will now face the risk of new violence between Turkish and SDF forces.”
    Who will be first in the firing line?

    It’s unlikely all of northeast Syria would be impacted by a Turkish invasion right away, given that so far the United States has only moved its troops away from two border posts, at Tel Abyad (Kurdish name: Gire Spi), and roughly 100 kilometres to the east, at Ras al-Ayn (Kurdish name: Serê Kaniyê).

    Depending on how far into Syria one is counting, aid workers estimate there are between 52,000 to 68,000 people in this 100-kilometre strip, including the towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn themselves. The aid worker in northeast Syria told TNH that if there is an offensive, these people are more likely, at least initially, to stay with family or friends in nearby villages than to end up in camps.

    The aid worker added that while humanitarian operations from more than 70 NGOs are ongoing across the northeast, including in places like Tel Abyad, some locals are avoiding the town itself and, in general, people are “extremely worried”.
    What will happen to al-Hol camp?

    The fate of the rest of northeast Syria’s population may also be at risk.

    Trump tweeted on Monday that the Kurds “must, with Europe and others, watch over the captured ISIS fighters and families”.

    The SDF currently administers al-Hol, a tense camp of more than 68,000 people – mostly women and children – deep in Hassakeh province, where the World Health Organisation recently said people are living “in harsh and deplorable conditions, with limited access to quality basic services, sub-optimal environment and concerns of insecurity.”

    Many of the residents of al-Hol stayed with IS through its last days in Syria, and the camp holds both these supporters and people who fled the group earlier on.

    Last week, Médecins Sans Frontières said security forces shot at women protesting in a part of the camp known as “the annex”, which holds around 10,000 who are not Syrian or Iraqi.

    The SDF also holds more than 10,000 IS detainees in other prisons, and the possible release of these people – plus those at al-Hol – may become a useful bargaining chip for the Kurdish-led group.

    On Monday, an SDF commander said guarding the prisoners had become a “second priority” in the wake of a possible Turkish offensive.

    “All their families are located in the border area,” General Mazloum Kobani Abdi told NBC News of the SDF fighters who had been guarding the prisoners. “So they are forced to defend their families.”

    https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news/2019/10/08/syria-turkey-briefing-fallout-invasion-civilians
    #Syrie #Turquie #guerre #conflit #civiles #invasion #al-Hol #Kurdistan #Kurdes #camps #camps_de_réfugiés
    ping @isskein

    • Il faut stopper Erdogan

      Les Kurdes de Syrie ont commencé à payer le prix de la trahison de l’Occident. Une pluie de bombes s’est abattue mercredi après-midi sur les villes frontière, précédant de peu une offensive terrestre de l’armée turque et de ses alliés islamistes de Syrie. Le macabre décompte des victimes peut débuter. On imagine l’effroi qui a saisi les habitants du #Rojava déjà durement éprouvés par plusieurs années de guerre contre les djihadistes.

      Le tweet dominical de Donald Trump avait annoncé la trahison ultime des Etats-Unis. Mais l’offensive turque répond à une logique plus profonde. A force de voir l’Union européenne lui manger dans la main, à force de jouer sans trop de heurts la balance géopolitique entre Moscou et Washington au gré de l’opportunisme des deux grandes puissances, Recep Tayyip Erdogan a des raisons de se sentir intouchable. Lorsqu’en 2015 et 2016, il faisait massacrer sa propre population dans les villes kurdes de Cizre, Nusaybin, Silopi ou Sur, le silence était de plomb.

      L’offensive débutée hier, le sultan l’annonce de longue date, sans provoquer de réaction ferme des Européens. La girouette Trump a bon dos : en matière d’allégeance à Ankara, les Européens sont autrement plus constants.

      Il faudra pourtant stopper Erdogan. Laisser le #Kurdistan_syrien tomber aux mains des milices islamistes et de l’armée turque reviendrait à cautionner un crime impardonnable. A abandonner des centaines de milliers de civils, dont de très nombreux réfugiés, et des milliers de combattants de la liberté à leurs bourreaux. Ce serait également la certitude d’une guerre de longue durée entre la Turquie et sa propre minorité kurde, environ un cinquième de sa population.

      Plusieurs pays européens ont réclamé une réunion du Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU. Le signe d’un sursaut ? L’espoir d’un cessez-le-feu rapide ? Ou des jérémiades d’arrière-garde, qui cesseront dès que la Turquie aura atteint ses objectifs ?

      Comme souvent, la superpuissance étasunienne détient les cartes maîtresses. Et Donald Trump n’en est pas à son premier virage intempestif. S’il a donné son feu vert à Erdogan, le républicain se retrouve coincé entre les interventionnistes et les isolationnistes de son propre parti. Hier, le premier camp s’indignait bruyamment. Exerçant une pression redoutable pour un président déjà affaibli par le dossier ukrainien.

      Il faudra qu’elle pèse aussi sur les dirigeants européens. La solidarité avec le Rojava doit devenir une priorité du mouvement social et des consciences.

      https://lecourrier.ch/2019/10/09/il-faut-stopper-erdogan

    • #Al-Hol detainees attack guards and start fires as Turkish assault begins

      Camp holding thousands of Islamic State suspects thrown into ’chaos’, says Kurdish official

      The Turkish assault on northeast Syria has prompted Islamic State group-affiliated women and youth in al-Hol’s camp to attack guards and start fires, a Kurdish official told Middle East Eye.

      Kurdish-held northeastern Syria has been on high alert since the United States announced on Sunday it would leave the area in anticipation of a Turkish offensive.

      Over the three days since the US announcement, chaos has broken out in the teeming al-Hol camp, Mahmoud Kro, an official that oversees internment camps in the Kurdish-run autonomous area, told MEE.

      Some 60,000 people suspected of being affiliated or linked to the Islamic State (IS) group, the majority women and children, are being held in the camp.

      “There are attacks on guards and camp management, in addition to burning tents and preparing explosive devices,” Kro told MEE from Qamishli.

      The status of al-Hol’s detainees has been a major concern since Turkey began making more threats to invade northeast Syria this year.

      In the phone call between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Donald Trump on Sunday that precipitated the United States’ pullout, the US president pressed his Turkish counterpart on the fate of foreign IS suspects in Kurdish custody, MEE revealed.
      ‘Targeting our existence as Kurds’

      Turkey launched its assault on northeastern Syria on Wednesday alongside its Syrian rebel allies, aiming, it says, to push the Kurdish YPG militia at least 32km from the border.

      Ankara views the YPG as an extension of the outlawed PKK militant group.

      However, the YPG is a leading component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia, which has been Washington’s principal partner on the ground in the fight against IS.

      SDF fighters guard al-Hol, but Kro said the Turkish attack would draw them away to join the battle.

      “Any war in the region will force the present forces guarding the camp to go defend the border,” he said. “This will increase the chance of chaos in the camp.”

      Kro said that the administration in al-Hol has not made any preparations for a war with Turkey because the SDF’s priority is protecting northeast Syria and Kurds.

      “In terms of preparations, our first priority is protecting our region and existence,” he said. “The Turks are targeting our existence as Kurds to the first degree.”

      Some officials from the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political wing of the SDF, agree with Kro’s assessment that the detainees in al-Hol could get out.

      “If fighting breaks out between the SDF and Turkey, security at prisons will relax and prisoners could escape,” Bassam Ishak, the co-chair of the SDC in the US, told MEE ahead of the offensive.

      Meanwhile, SDC spokesman Amjad Osman said, as other Syrian Kurdish officials have, that a Turkish attack on northeast Syria would negatively affect the continuing war on IS in the country.

      “We are committed to fighting terrorism,” he told MEE. “But now our priority is to, first of all, confront the Turkish threats. And this will have a negative effect on our battle against Daesh,” using the Arabic acronym for IS.

      However, Turkey has bristled at the suggestion that the camps and fight against IS will be endangered by Ankara’s offensive.

      “This blackmail reveals the true face of the YPG and demonstrates how it has no intent of fighting against IS,” a Turkish official told MEE.

      Some residents of northeast Syria are already starting to flee. Many fear yet another war in the country that is still dealing with the conflict between government and rebel forces, and lingering IS attacks.

      Osman stopped short of saying the SDF would pack up and leave al-Hol. However, it will be hard for the group to keep holding the Syrian, Iraqi and international detainees during such a war, he said.

      “We are trying as much as possible to continue protecting the camps,” Osman said. “But any attempt to drag us into a military battle with Turkey will have a dangerous impact.”

      https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/al-hol-detainees-attack-guards-and-start-fires-turkish-assault-begins
      #ISIS #Etat_islamique #EI