“Olive Branch” areas in April | Over 20 arbitrary arrests and kidnappings…ongoing violations…demographic change in progress
Since Turkish forces and their proxy factions captured several areas in Aleppo after a military operation known as “Olive Branch”, humanitarian crises have been emerging and worsening gradually, with violations, attacks and explosions occur almost daily. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has monitored and tracked April’s prominent developments in these areas, which could be summarised in the following main points:
Human casualties: figures and details
In April, SOHR activists have documented the death of six people and injury of 11 others, including three civilians, among them there was a little girl. The fatalities breakdown were as follows:
- A little girl was killed by her step-father in Jendires in Afrin countryside.
- Two members of “Al-Jabha Al-Shamiyyah” were shot dead by unknown gunmen in Sharran area in Afrin countryside.
- Two members of “Sultan Mohammed al-Fateh Brigade” were killed after unknown individuals threw a grenade on their headquarters in Bulbul district in Afrin countryside.
- A member of al-Sham Corps was killed in clashes between to groups of this faction in Maydanki area in Afrin countryside.
Alarming escalation of explosions, rivalries and security chaos
In April 2021, SOHR documented seven attacks in “Olive Branch” areas, including IED and grenade explosions, armed attacks and clashes, and they were as follows:
- On April 1, an IED exploded in a car in al-Siyasah street in Afrin city, which injured the car’s driver.
- On April 12, an IED exploded in a car in Trendah area, near Afrin in the north-west of Aleppo, but no casualties were reported.
- On April 9, unknown gunmen opened machinegun fire on the headquarters of “Al-Jabha Al-Shamiyyah” in Sharran area, which resulted in the death of two members of the faction, while others injured.
- On April 15, armed fight erupted among groups of al-Sham Corps in Maydanki area following disagreements over the possession of headquarters, areas and properties. The clashes resulted in the death of one of the conflicting militiamen and the injury of others.
- On April 17, clashes renewed between the same groups, al-Sham Corps groups, where the militiamen blocked the road to al-Ghazawiyyah for more than an hour.
- On April 14, unknown gunmen attacked, with grenades, the military headquarters of the Turkish-backed faction Sultan Mohammed Al-Fateh in Bulbul district in Afrin city, which resulted in two members of the faction and injury of others.
- On April 24, a little girl sustained injuries due to the explosion of a grenade thrown by unknown individuals near Nowruz roundabout in Afrin city.
Moreover, a man and his wife killed a two-year-old girl, who was the wife’s daughter, because of her repeated cries at night. The incident took place in Jandiras town in Afrin countryside in the north-west of Aleppo. it is worth noting that the man secretly buried the body of the little girl, as she had had traumas at the head, according to the forensic team.
Ongoing violations and continuous demographic change operation
As repression is escalating in Turkish-controlled areas in Aleppo countryside, especially in Afrin, Turkish-backed factions have stepped up their daily violations against the region’s people who refused to flee their areas and people displaced to the canton. In April, SOHR documented the arrest and kidnapping of over 28 civilians, including 16 women, in Ma’batli, al-Basoutah, Jendires, Rajou, Bulbul and Afrin city. it is worth noting that eight of these people have been released, while the others are still in the factions’ custody.
As a part of efforts by Turkish forces and their proxy factions to follow Turkey’s plan of demographic change in Afrin city and affiliated districts, SOHR sources reported in mid-April that the Kuwaiti-backed “Sham Al-Khair Charity” constructed a housing association called “Kuwait Al-Rahma” in a village in Shirawa district in Afrin countryside, under direct supervision of the “Civili Council” in Afrin. The construction of housing continued in a complex included nearly 300 houses, a mosque, a dispensary, a school and a Koranic institute with the aim of housing displaced people from various Syrian areas.
As for the ongoing violations, “Suleiman Shah Division”, headed by “Abu Amsha”, seized large areas of land and orchards in Sheikh Hadid district in Afrin countryside, north-west of Aleppo in late April. The faction seized five plots of agricultural land and orchards containing olive trees, owned by people who were displaced from Afrin during the “Olive Branch” operation. Meanwhile, civil sources in Afrin city confirmed that a large number of indigenous people of Afrin, who were forced to displace from their areas, recently sold their farmlands, for fear of being completely seized by the Ankara-backed factions.
On the other hand, the commander of “Sulieman Shah” faction, known as “Abu Amsha”, granted financial awards to the fighters of the faction reached 300 TL each, as Ramadan approached. The financial awards granted by Abu Amsha also covered all affiliated workers and employees in his “independent kingdom”, Sheikh Hadid district, in Afrin canton, including the civil council, education department, medical department, civil police, military police and cleaning staff. This development has raised questions regarding the source of all of these money, especially since the Turkish Intelligence continued evading to pay the salaries of the fighters working for the National Army’s factions for unknown reasons, amid growing popular discontent among these fighters.
The commander of “Sultan Suleiman Shah” faction Mohammed al-Jassim, aka “Abu Amsha” or the king of “Sheikh Al-Hadid Kingdom” in the countryside of Afrin, started his military career by firing Grad missiles at regime-held areas, as in 2013, “Abu Amsha” bragged about the rockets he fired from his position in the village of Al-Fuqay’e in Jabal Shahshabo, west of Hama on areas held by the Syrian regime in Hama countryside. It is worth noting the targeted villages and towns had inhabited by Alawite community, while others inhabited by Christians. Abu Amsha’s missiles sometimes hit Hama airport, and according to SOHR sources, Abu Amsha was photographing his military operations at that time in order to get material support, as he tried to portray himself as a revolutionary hero who owned a faction called “Liwaa Khatt al-Nar” (the Fire Line Brigade).
It is worth noting that Hayyaat Tahrir al-Sham, “Jabhat al-Nusra” formerly, pursued Abu Amsha in Hama countryside, on charges of corruption, misappropriation of funds and banditry. After that, al-Jassim went to Turkey and then returned and joined the forces of the “occupation” of Afrin, where his violations started against the people of the region and their properties, until he set himself as king of the kingdom of Sheikh al-Hadid in rural Afrin and started many projects with suspicious funds.
It seems that the series of violations in “Olive Branch” areas will be unstoppable as long as Turkish forces and their proxies keep breaching all international laws and charters, and with no body being able to put an end to these “grave” violations, despite SOHR repeated warnings about the dreadful humanitarian situation in the region.