Abuse of civilians by Turkey-backed rebels undermining safe zone  - Washington Post

Turkey’s goal of creating a “safe zone” for civilians in northern Syria is being undermined by increasing reports of abuse against the local population at the hands of Ankara-backed proxy forces, the Washington Post reported on Sunday. 

Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebels launched a cross-border offensive into northeast Syria on Oct. 9, aiming to clear the region of Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), a group Ankara considers "terrorists" linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and create a safe zone for the resettlement of millions of refugees. Turkey halted the operation on day nine, after striking two separate deals with the United States and Russia, which called for the withdrawal of the YPG from the planned safe zone.

The offensive has led to the displacement of  200,000 people and Turkey’s Syrian Arab proxies are accused of carrying out summary executions and beatings, kidnapping and looting houses and businesses, the Washington Post said. 

The developments in the region force out Kurdish residents and their sympathisers and replace them with Arabs loyal to Turkey, it said.

 Depredations against civilians that have driven thousands out of the area are being blamed on Turkey’s proxy force leading the ground offensive, the Syrian National Army.

Graphic videos showing fighters from the Ahrar al-Sharqiyah, a faction of the Syrian National Army, summarily executing captives on a highway near Tel Abyad, including Hevrin Khalaf, a Syrian Kurdish politician, on Oct. 12, have led to international condemnation. 

“Those people are filled with hatred and a lust for blood,” Fateh, a 38-year-old barber from the border town of Ras al-Ayn in northeastern Syria, told the Washington Post. “They do not distinguish between Arab and Kurdish, Muslim and non-Muslim. They contacted me before the offensive and said that as an Arab Muslim, it is my duty to rise up against the Kurds and help Turkey invade my city.”

Another local from the Kurdish enclave of Kobane, told the Washington Post that the Turkish incursion reminded him of when the Islamic State (ISIS) invaded his town in 2013. 

Syrian National Army members “destroyed a lion stonework at the entrance of our building, thinking it was idolatry,” he said. “They took our carpets and threw them on the street to prostrate themselves on them during public prayers that they were holding.”

Mikael Mohammad, the Kurdish owner of a clothing shop in Tel Abyad who has been displaced by the offensive, explained how he and his family are now in Raqqa, crammed with three other families in a one-bedroom apartment abandoned by its inhabitants.

“Let’s be clear, Tal Abyad is not under the control of Turkey. It’s under the control of Turkey’s mercenaries,” he said. “They have taken over the houses of us Kurds and made them their own.”