“Olive Branch” areas in April 2023 | 34 kidnappings and arbitrary arrests, nearly 90 other human rights violations and killing IS*IS commander by Turks tops the events
SOHR calls on the international community to intervene immediately and protect civilians from systematic violations by Turkish-backed factions
Since Turkish forces and their proxy factions captured several areas in north-western Aleppo, namely Afrin canton, after a military operation known as “Olive Branch”, humanitarian crises have been emerging and worsening gradually, with violations, attacks and explosions occurring almost daily. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has monitored and tracked prominent developments and gross violations in these areas in April 2023, which can be summarised in the following main points:
Acts of violence leave fatalities
In April, SOHR documented the death of seven people in areas under the control of Turkish forces and factions operating under the banner of “Olive Branch” operations room in the north-western countryside of Aleppo. A breakdown of fatalities is as follows:
-Three civilians: Two killed by factions and one died under torture in a prison of Turkish-backed factions; they are as follows:
- A displaced Palestinian citizen was shot dead with 30 gunshots by members of Nour Al-Din Al-Zenki Movement which operates under the banner of the Turkish-backed “National Army” in Deir Ballot camp.
- A displaced young man from Al-Nabak town in Rif Dimashq was shot dead by a group of the “National Army” militiamen following disagreements over financial affairs in Raju district in Afrin countryside.
- An man in his sixties died in the military hospital in Afrin city, after having been beaten and tortured by members of Al-Sham Corps.
-Three combatants were shot dead by unknown gunmen:
- A member of the 51st Division, which is affiliated to a Turkish-backed faction, was shot dead by unknown gunmen in Hursh Atmah in Sharran district in Afrin countryside in north-western Aleppo.
- A guard of the Turkish-backed “National Army” was killed while he was resisting a thief who was stealing contents of houses, which had been devastated by the earthquake that hit Syria on February 6, in Jendires district in Afrin countryside in north-western Aleppo, where the thief shot the guard dead.
- A member of Al-Hamzah Division was shot dead by unknown gunmen on a motorcycle on the road to Raju district in Afrin countryside.
-An ISIS commander was killed in an attack by Turkish forces, as Turkish forces fired a missile on a military position of Jaysh Al-Sharqiyah, destroying that position.
Ongoing heinous crimes and violations
As Turkish-backed factions continue their blatant violations on a daily basis against the residents who have chosen to stay in their areas over displacement and against people displaced to Afrin canton, SOHR has documented 30 arbitrary arrests of civilians by Turkish-backed factions in April.
In addition, four kidnaps were documented in “Olive Branch” area in April, with the first taking place on April 8, when unknown individuals in the “National Army” uniform kidnapped a civilian in his forties on the road to Baflour village in Jendires district near a military checkpoint of “Ahrar Al-Sharqiyah” faction. The kidnapped civilian, who is from Sennarah, was driven to an orchard where the kidnappers beat him brutally, causing cuts and bruises all over his body. They also stole a sum of money estimated to be 3,000 USD and 2,000 TL from the man.
While on April 11, SOHR sources reported that members of “Al-Hamzah Division” kidnapped a 36-year-old man, after having asking for bringing back his house and properties which had been seized by the faction. The kidnapped man is from Jouqiyah village in Afrin countryside and he moved to live with is relatives in the same village, after the faction’s members had taken over his house.
Similarly, on April 20, SOHR sources reported that members of “Al-Majd Corps” which operates under the banner of the Turkish-backed “National Army” kidnapped two young men in Zirka village in Raju district in Afrin countryside. The two young men were taken to a security centre of the faction in the village, where the faction’s militiamen asked for a ransom in return for their release. According to SOHR sources, the faction’s members tortured and physically abused the young men to force their families to pay the ransom, before having been released for a ransom of 1,000 USD.
Furthermore, SOHR has documented over 89 other violations distributed as follows:
-Six incidents of seizure of farmlands by factions of the “National Army” by force and selling them to displaced people at low prices.
-11 incidents of seizure and selling of displaced people’s houses which had been forcibly seized earlier by Turkish-backed factions. The houses were sold at low prices and in US dollars in particular.
-43 incidents of imposition of levies by factions and military police; they are as follows:
- 30 incidents in which factions collected ransoms of 300 to 11,000 USD each in return for release detainees.
- Nine incidents in which Sultan Mohamed Al-Fateh faction imposed levies of 50 USD each on shopkeepers and owners of stores in Ma’mal Oshagi village in Raju district under the pretext of “protecting their shops against thefts.”
- Imposition of a levy of 2,000 USD by Al-Amshat faction on a civilian from Qarmatlaq village in Sheikh Hadeed district in return for taking back his house. It is worth noting that the civilian has returned recently from Turkey to the village.
- Imposition of a levy by Al-Hamaza Division on individuals authorised by Afrin inhabitants, who have been forced to displace to north Aleppo countryside, in the villages of Marratah, Kafr Dali Tahtani, and Foqani, Faqiran and Bablit in Afrin countryside, in which the faction’s members asked for 40 percent of the value of the harvest.
- Imposition of a levy of 5,000 USD imposed by Ahrar Al-Sharqiyah faction on a civilian in return for taking back his petrol station, after having been taking over by the faction’s members five years ago.
- Imposition of a levy of 1,300 USD by a member of Ahrar Al-Sharqiyah faction on a civilian from Raju district in return for not posting a picture of the civilian that he took during the Autonomous Administration’s control of Afrin canton, as the member of the faction had threatened to hand over the picture to the Turkish intelligence services.
-18 incidents of felling fruit-bearing trees by factions of Turkish-backed “National Army,” where over 775 olive trees were cut down in several areas in villages and districts of Afrin.
-Six thefts; they are as follows:
- A member of a faction of the “National Army” on a motorbike intercepted an elderly man in his seventies from Baadina village in Maabatly district in Afrin countryside, where the member severely beat him and stole a sum of money of about 1,500 USD and 2,000 TL from him, under the pretext that “he tried to knock his motorbike.”
- Members of Al-Sham Corps which dominates Al-Ghazzawiyah village in Shirawa district in Afrin countryside took over 3,000 TL, two mobile phones and seven tins of olive oil during a raid on the house of a civilian from the village under the pretext that “there were suspects in the house.” The faction’s members threatened to punish the civilian, if he filed a complaint against them at the military police or Turkish forces.
- A displaced civilian from Sarmada city in Idlib countryside was robbed on the road between Afrin city and Jendires district. According to SOHR sources, unknown gunmen in a car, “Santa Fe” make, blocked the civilian and took over a sum of money on his possession estimated to be of 3,000 USD.
- Unknown gunmen took over a sum of money of an estimated 700 TL and a mobile phone from a civilian from Ba’danli village in Ma’batli district, after having blocked him while he was on his way to work.
- Members of a military police patrol stormed the house of a civilian a few days ago in Maarsekkah village in Sharran district in Afrin countryside in the north-western countryside of Aleppo, arresting the owner of the house and they took him to Afrin city with the aim of collecting a ransom. During the raid, the patrol’s members also stole several mobile phones, money and a pick-up truck belonging to the civilian.
- Militiamen of “Al-Jabha Al-Shamiyyah” looted the furniture and all contents of a house belonging to a civilian in Arab Wayran village in Sharran district in Afrin countryside. It is worth noting that the civilian has returned recently to the village from Aleppo city and equipped the house completely, before the house’s contents were looted.
-One incident of taking over civilian properties, where militiamen of Al-Sham Corps took over a van by force in Basofan village in Shirawa district in Afrin countryside and threatened to kill the van’s owner if he filed a complaint at the so called “Rights Restitution Committee” against them.
Also, SOHR also documented four assaults by various factions of the “National Army” in April; further details can be summarised as follows:
- April 3: Members of “Al-Sham Corps” faction which controls Iska village in Shirawa district in Afrin countryside west of Aleppo province, severely beat an old civilian and stole his money and cell phone, without knowing the reasons behind the assaulting.
- April 6: Members of the civil police verbally abused and brutally beat an employee working in the water and electricity company in Afrin city, after the employee had reacted to verbal abuse by a reviewer affiliated with the “National Army” factions.
- April 26: Members of Al-Sham Legion that has control over Kawanda village in Rajo district in Afrin countryside north western of Aleppo, assaulted an 85 years-old civilian and brutally beat him, because he prevented shepherds of Al-Sham Legion from herding in his olive fields, where the man suffered a broken pelvis, wounds in his head and bruises in different areas of his body and he was taken to a hospital in Afrin to receive proper medication, and they threatened to kill him in case he issues a complaint against them.
- April 26: Members of “Al-Sultan Suleiman Shah” “Al-Amshat” assaulted a preacher of a mosque in Shaikh Al-Hadid district, after he called the people praying in the mosque to not turn around as a member of “Al-Amshat” was filming them, while the member considered the preacher’s call to people as offending to him and he slapped and assaulted him in front of the civilians.
Moreover, “Olive Branch” area experienced only one infighting in the past month; it took place on April 10 when a displaced young man from Al-Nabak town in Rif Dimashq was killed and his brother was injured, after having been shot by a group of the “National Army” militiamen following disagreements over financial affairs in Raju district in Afrin countryside.
Ongoing demographic change
As a part of ongoing efforts by Turkish forces to change the demography of Afrin canton in north-western Aleppo, after taking over civilian properties and forcing two thirds of the indigenous inhabitants to displace, “Ahrar Al-Sharqiyah” faction established a new residential complex overlooking the road between Jendires and Afrin, after having felled 280 trees belonging to two displaced persons from Shitka village in Ma’batli district in Afrin countryside in order to house families loyal to the faction.
According to SOHR sources, the complex supposed to comprise 200 prefabricated houses provided by the Palestinian organisation of “Ajnadin,” after a contract was signed with “Ahrar Al-Sharqiyah” faction, with Turkey’s consensus. According to this contract, the complex would be under direct supervision of the organisation. It is worth noting that 20 prefabricated houses have been already sent to the new complex, while the remaining houses would be delivered in batches.
It seems that violations in “Olive Branch” areas will not stop as long as Turkish forces and their proxies keep breaching all international laws and charters, while no party or international or regional player is exhibiting any willingness to put an end to these “grave” violations, despite SOHR’s repeated warnings about the dreadful humanitarian situation in the region.