Turkish-backed fighters ‘ravaging’ Afrin - report

Turkish-backed fighters are “ravaging” the predominantly Kurdish region of Afrin in north west Syria, the Jerusalem Post said on Thursday.

Turkey launched a cross-border military operation against the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Afrin in January 2018.

Since then, the region has largely been under control of Syrian rebel groups supported by Turkey, who have been accused by international organisations including the United Nations of crimes against the local population. 

“We have strong evidence indicating the involvement of the Turkish authorities and their client extremist militias in the international crime which is taking place in Turkish-occupied Afrin - including rape, trafficking, and torture to death,” Jiger Hussein, a former Afrin resident who now leads an investigation team focused on the area, told the Jerusalem Post.

Gender-based violence was a particular feature of the atrocities committed by Turkish-backed militias, the newspaper said, citing evidence from campaign group the Missing Afrin Women Project. According to the group, 88 women were kidnapped last year in Afrin by armed groups linked to Turkey, with 51 of these still missing as of January.

The plight of women in Afrin came to widespread international attention last year after a video emerged of eight female prisoners being moved from a previously unknown black site in the headquarters of the Hamza Division, a key local Turkish ally. 

Three of the cases tracked by the Missing Afrin Women Project involve allegations of sexual abuse, including against the Hamza Division, the Jerusalem Post said. At least fourteen other cases involve allegations of torture.

A U.N. report published in March included testimony from victims that Turkish officials were present during their abuse at Syrian rebel bases. Rebel groups also targeted members of the Yazidi religious minority, according to the report.

Taken together, these crimes were among “the darkest chapters” of the Syrian conflict, the Jerusalem Post said.