“Peace Spring” a year on: A new map of influence…growing humanitarian disaster and continuous Turkish violations
One year after the other and with every passing day, the Syrian scene is getting more complicated October 9, 2019 to October 9, 2020, saw a new Turkish intervention in Syria code-named “operation Peace Spring”, the military operation launched by Turkey with the so-called “Syrian National Army” in the north and north-eastern Syria against the Syrian Democratic Forces.
This operation, launched after the U.S. withdrawal from the Syria-Turkey border, caused the SDF to lose several areas under its control, and changed the map of the conflict in the north and north-eastern regions of Syria, after SDF resorted to Russia to conclude agreements to prevent Turkey from further penetrating the territory under SDF’s influence.
A new map of influence
Since the start of the Turkish military operation in northern Syria on October 9, Turkish forces and allied factions have provided intensive air and ground cover in a total area of 4,875 square kilometres (9.2 percent of the total area controlled by SDF), more than a quarter of Lebanon’s size. At the same time, regime forces, under a Russian-brokered agreement between SDF and the regime, entered an area of 18,821 square kilometres (35.6% of the total area of SDF control), meaning that SDF lost control of 23,641 km2, after it had been controlling an area of 52,916 square kilometres (28.6% of the total area of Syria) before the Turkish military operation, which now means that SDF only controls 15.7% of the Syrian territory as things stand.
A Humanitarian disaster
The Turkish military operation produced another humanitarian disaster to add to a series of crises that the Syrians have been suffering for some 10 years now. The number of displaced persons as a result of that military operation has exceeded 300,000 civilians, all displaced from their towns, towns and villages in Tel Abyad, Ras al-Ain, Darbasiya, Ain al-Arab, Ain Issa and other areas east of the Euphrates on the border with Turkey, amid difficult humanitarian conditions in the region following the high number of displaced persons.
The repercussions of the Turkish intervention did not stop with the displacement of hundreds of thousands but caused several deaths among civilians and non-civilians. The number of civilians killed has reached 146, including 7 women and 4 children, while the number of deaths among SDF, military councils and internal security forces as a result of air and ground strikes and clashes with Turkish forces and allied factions since the beginning of the Turkish military operation has exceeded 510. Also, 28 regime soldiers were killed, and others injured in a Turkish rocket attack on the north-west axes of Manbij and east of Ain Issa at regime forces’ deployment sites. The number of deaths among the Turkish-backed factions during the same period reached 279, including 21 pro-Turkey fighters killed in clashes with SDF, whileTurkey lost 10 of its soldiers..
Areas under the control of “Peace Spring” factions have witnessed widespread violations, starting with theft, kidnapping forransoms, to the most heinous forms of torture of civiliansunder the flimsy pretext of “dealing with the self-administration” that once governed the region.
On September 25th, trucks belonging to Turkish-backed factions transported stolen items from residents’ homes such as firewood and fodder in the villages of Rihanna, Qasimiyah, Aziziya, Qasimiyah Sharbin and Qasimiyah Samayla to Ras al-Ain.
In addition to stealing personal belongings and private properties, the factions of the so-called Syrian National Army launched raids and arrests in the villages of Asdiya, Asdiya Sharqiya, Safah, Salam Al-Alik, Tal Khanzer and Dahma, within the “Peace Spring” areas of influence. Those factions also stole/confiscated the mobile phones of residents under the pretext that “they were used to communicate with SDF”.
Also, the Ankara-backed Hamzat Brigade forced the owners of several shops to close downat gunpoint in Ras al-Ain, after distributing leaflets in the city calling for a strike against the city’s local council. In a related context, Hamzat militants attacked and severely beat up a resident after refusing to close his shop, as the “Hamzaat Squad” tried to force the residents of Ras al-Ain to stage demonstrations against the civil council in Ras al-Ain after the council rejected the dominance over the border with Turkey.
Turkish-backed factions continue to impose levies on residents passing through their checkpoints, with the Hamza Group imposing up to 3,000 Syrian pounds on cars and motorcycles passing through and out of Ras al-Ain. They also terrorise passers-by with live bullets and imprison them for dealing with SDF, and force them to pay.
Similarly, the Turkish-backed factions continue to steal and export wheat from the “Peace Spring” areas to Turkey under the guise of “ it being bought” by the Turkish Grain Corporation in Turkish lira through the Tal Abyad border crossing with Turkey, where dozens of trucks and thousands of tonnes of wheat gather near the crossing, in preparation for transfer to Turkey. The local councils in Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain had set the price of buying wheat at 1,300 Turkish liras per tonne. The Turkish-backed factions have also put their hands on the agricultural crops of the people in the “Peace Spring” areas in Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad countryside.
To put pressure on the population, Turkish forces deliberately shut down the “Aluk” water station, which feeds Al-Hasakeh city, for more than 25 days, causing widespread public anger over the interruption of drinking water. This was the eighth time that water had been cut off from the area after the Turkish forces, under the pretext of maintenance, stopped pumping drinking water completely from Aluk station since August 2020. since the beginning of August 2020. Turkish forces have also requested an increase to the electricity supplies to the “Peace Spring” areas, a request rejected by the self-administration, and resulted in a complete interruption of drinking water.
Turkey is still pressing on with its process of demographic change within the areas it gained control over in northern Syria during operation “Peace Spring”, where many people have been settled in Ras al-Ain (Sri Kaniyee), mostly from Idlib province. Also, the Ankara-backed factions continue their efforts to force those who remain in the areas they have taken control of in northern Syria to leave and not to allow residents to return. Reliable sources confirmed that several residents of northern Syria are being transferred to the cities of Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain, which are under the control of Turkish forces and proxy factions.
Infighting and insecurity
Over the past few months, internal disputes between the “Peace Spring” factions have worsened, resulting in chaotic in-fighting between these factions, most recently the clashes in Ras al-Ain between pro-Turkish factions, due to their disagreement over the appointment of the director of the Ras al-Ain border-crossing. These particular clashes resulted in the three deaths and the injury of many.
Ras al-Ain and its countryside witnessed popular anger and discontent, because of the attempt of the factions and Turkish forces to exclude the local residents from the management of their areas, after the appointment of Ahmed Bulat as director of the Ras Al Ain commercial crossing. Residents gathered at the border-crossing between Syria and Turkey in Ras al-Ain, and called on the Turkish side to intervene to reduce the ongoing violations of the factions against them.
The year-long violations would not have been possible without the international community turning a blind eye to Turkey’s violations and to those of the factions loyal to it, from the military operation itself, to the horrific daily violations and attacks against civilians, to the factional infightings and mismanagement of the areas under the control of the so-called National Army.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, on marking the first anniversary of this military operation that has shifted the balance of power and altered agreements and alliances, stress the fact that the international community bears the moral burden and responsibility of stopping the violations and atrocities committed by Turkish-backed factions under the watchful eyes of the Turkish authorities, who have clearly ignored and even directed those violations with the aim of forcing the remaining indigenous population to leave, and therefore completing the process of demographic change that Turkey seeks to accomplish quickly.