U.S. examining evidence of war crimes in Turkish offensive, Syria envoy tells Senate committee

U.S. officials have received evidence of war crimes committed during Turkey’s military operation in northeast Syria and have demanded an explanation, Washington’s Syria envoy James Jeffrey told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.

Jeffrey’s testimony comes after reports of extrajudicial killings and the use of white phosphorus munitions during Turkey’s nine-day operation, during which monitors say 120 civilians were killed.

Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring on Oct. 9 after President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. forces cleared the way for an offensive. But the advance of Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel auxiliaries provoked international outrage as Kurdish-led groups that had fought in the front lines against Islamic State were shelled and forced to flee.

The operation was “a tragic disaster for northeast Syria”, Reuters quoted Jeffrey as saying during his testimony.

“Many people fled because they’re very concerned about these Turkish-supported Syrian opposition forces, as we are. We’ve seen several incidents which we consider war crimes,” Jeffrey said.

U.S. officials have demanded an explanation from the Turkish government “at a high level”, he said.

On Oct. 12, Future Syria Party leader Hevrin Khalaf was dragged from her car by Turkish-backed rebels and murdered, officials from Kurdish-led administrations in northeast Syria say.

Footage said to be shot before she was killed was widely circulated on social media, making the woman politician a symbol of the betrayal felt by many Kurds at the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring organisation, estimates that some 300,000 people have been displaced from areas bordering Turkey.

Jeffrey said U.S. officials had not seen evidence of ethnic cleansing, but that they were investigating the use of white phosphorus, a chemical compound that burns fiercely and can melt human skin, and whose use in munitions is restricted by international humanitarian law.