Crowds in the northwestern Syrian town of Tel Rifaat protested for the second day on Saturday against Turkish threats to launch a military offensive in the region, various local media reported.
Zelukh Bekir, co-chair of the Afrin Canton Council, the county’s governing body while under Kurdish control, “condemned the international community’s silence on the Turkish state’s threats in Tel Rifaat district and the northern and eastern regions of Syria,” Kurdish-linked Hawar News Agency (ANHA) reported.
Civilians in the northern Aleppo province’s Tel Rifaat protested on Friday while others in northwest of Aleppo’s Azaz called upon Turkey and their backed forces “to enter Tel Rifaat and areas under the control of the Kurdish forces and regime forces,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported. Among protesters were those displaced from Afrin to Tel Rifaat, who took to the streets bearing olive branches, Kurdish flags and signs.
The Cizre Human Rights Organization issued a statement on Saturday demanding an end to the Turkish occupation in the region, independent investigation on Turkish violations in the region by international organizations and guarantee of the safe return of those displaced, ANHA reported. The organization also called on Turkish authorities to stop arbitrary detainment, ill-treatment and abuse and “ the transfer, detention and trial of Syrian citizens from the occupied area.”
The People’s Protection Units (YPG) gained control of Tel Rifaat from the Islamic State (ISIS) in early 2016 and established the Kurdish administration of Shahba Canton. Today, the town makes up a small pocket of territory neighbored by Turkish-backed militias, regime forces and rebel-held Idlib. It houses thousands of Kurds who fled Afrin when Ankara and its Syrian proxies invaded in 2018, forcing the YPG out.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this month again said he had “no patience” with the Kurdish groups. Unnamed Turkish officials told Reuters the target of a possible new operation is the Tel Rifaat area in Aleppo province, which Turkey accuses Kurdish forces of using as a launch pad for attacks on their positions.
Turkey signed two truce agreements with Russia and the U.S. in October 2019 to end its military operation against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria. Ankara and Moscow also announced a truce between regime forces and rebels in Idlib in 2020. All three ceasefires have brought some stability but have been violated multiple times.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on Saturday said his country remains committed to those 2019 ceasefire agreements, despite renewed threats from Ankara of a military operation against Kurdish fighters.