Civilians flee as Syria Kurds battle Turkish invasion

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that 70,000 people have been newly displaced since Ankara launched its operation. (IHA via AP)
Updated 12 October 2019

Civilians flee as Syria Kurds battle Turkish invasion

  • Turkish assault seen as a blatant betrayal of Washington’s erstwhile Kurdish allies
  • International condemnation of the Turkish invasion was overwhelming

TALL TAMR, Syria: Thousands of civilians fled air strikes and shelling as Syria’s Kurds battled to hold off a Turkish invasion on Thursday, with fears mounting of a developing humanitarian crisis.
US President Donald Trump tried to justify the de facto green light he gave his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan for an assault seen as a blatant betrayal of Washington’s erstwhile Kurdish allies.
Later Trump suggested that Washington could mediate between Turkey and Kurdish groups and a US official said Trump has asked American diplomats to broker a cease-fire.
But international condemnation of the Turkish assault was overwhelming and the response to the operation was discussed in an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.
UN chief Antonio Guterres expressed “deep concern” over the violence, while the council’s five European members urged Turkey “to cease the unilateral military action.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called for an emergency meeting of the US-led coalition against the Daesh group.
Syrian Kurdish forces lost 11,000 personnel and played a major role in the years-long battle to eliminate the “caliphate” Daesh had set up in the region.
In scenes all too familiar since the start of Syria’s war in March 2011, civilians were seen abandoning their homes Thursday, in vehicles or on foot with their belongings on their backs.
The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Thursday estimated that 70,000 people have been newly displaced since Ankara launched its operation.
“We’re heading to the countryside because we’re scared of renewed bombing and intensified clashes,” said Rizan Mohammad, 33, who fled the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli with his family.
After launching the assault with air strikes and intense artillery fire on Wednesday, the Turkish army and its Syrian proxies crossed the border into Kurdish-controlled areas.
On Thursday, Turkish jets carried out fresh strikes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a Kurdish military official said.
Fighting broke out in several locations along the roughly 120-kilometer wide front where operations are focused, they said.
Turkish forces and allied rebels captured 11 villages in the area, the Observatory said.
Fighting mostly centered around Tal Abyad — one of the main Kurdish-controlled towns in the area coveted by Ankara.
Clashes also raged around Ras Al-Ain further west, the other main town in the zone that Turkish media reports say is the first goal of the offensive.
The Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of sources in Syria, said at least 29 fighters and 10 civilians have been killed since the start of the assault.
AFP correspondents saw fighters crossing into Syria in dozens of vehicles.
Turkey, which staged two previous offensives into Syria since the start of the conflict, relies heavily on Syrian proxy fighters, many of whom once battled President Bashar Assad’s troops.
Erdogan wants a buffer zone to which he can send back some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees his country hosts.
On Thursday he warned the European Union that the alternative was to allow the refugees to head to its shores instead.
“If you try to frame our operation there as an invasion ... we will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you,” Erdogan said.
Fourteen humanitarian organizations, including the Norwegian Refugee Council and Mercy Corps, warned that hundreds of thousands of people were in danger.
“An estimated 450,000 people live within five kilometers of the Syria-Turkey border and are at risk if all sides do not exercise maximum restraint and prioritize the protection of civilians,” a joint statement said.
The SDF, which have little armor and no air force, are unlikely to hold out very long against Turkish firepower in the flat and open terrain they are defending.
“The question that remains is how far can Turkey advance before international or regional actors, stop it,” said Nick Heras, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security.
The assault appeared almost inevitable after Trump announced Sunday that US troops deployed in the area were pulling back from the border.
The withdrawal was implemented the next day, effectively clearing the way for Turkey’s offensive.
Trump on Thursday suggested Washington could mediate between Turkey and the Kurds.
“We have been tasked by the president to try to see if there are areas of commonality between the two sides (and if) there’s a way that we can find our way to a cease-fire,” a US official said on condition of anonymity.
One of the Kurds’ last hopes is that the prospect of Daesh prisoners breaking out and regrouping with increasingly active sleeper cells will spur the world into action.
About 12,000 men linked to Daesh are held in seven detention centers across northeast Syria, according to the Kurds.
On Thursday, the Kurdish administration said a prison housing Daesh fighters in the region under its control was hit by Turkish bombardment.


Lebanese MPs fail to reach agreement on draft amnesty law

Updated 29 May 2020

Lebanese MPs fail to reach agreement on draft amnesty law

  • The Free Patriotic Movement tried to amend the law by excluding “perpetrators of crimes against public funds and terrorist crimes” from the amnesty

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Parliament on Thursday failed to approve a draft law on general amnesty, after tensions rose during a vote and the Future Movement, led by former prime minister Saad Hariri, walked out of the legislative session.

“They want to bring us back to square one,” he said. “Every party has its own arguments, as if they want to score points.”

The Free Patriotic Movement tried to amend the law by excluding “perpetrators of crimes against public funds and terrorist crimes” from the amnesty. Minister of Justice Marie Claude Najm, who is affiliated with the FPM, asked for “amendments to the draft law so that it does not include those accused of tax evasion and violating maritime property.”

The draft law was referred to the parliament despite disagreements between parliamentary committees over the basic issue of who should and should not be included in the amnesty. The former government, led by Hariri, proposed a general amnesty law before it resigned last October in the face of mounting pressure resulting from public protests.

There were a number of protests during the legislative session, some opposing the adoption of the law entirely, while others were directed at specific provisions within it.

The draft law includes an amnesty for about 1,200 Sunni convicts, 700 of whom are Lebanese. Some are accused of killing soldiers in the Lebanese Army, possessing, transporting or using explosives, kidnap and participating in bombings.

It was also covers about 6,000 Lebanese Christians, most of whom fled to Israel following the withdrawal of occupying Israeli soldiers from southern Lebanon in 2000, as well as nearly 30,000 people from the Bekaa region, the majority of whom are from the Shiite community and wanted for drug trafficking, drug abuse, murder, kidnap, robbery and other crimes.

Hezbollah appeared to agree to a pardon for entering Israel, but object to a pardon for anyone who worked or communicated with the enemy or acquired Israeli citizenship.

Before the session, the Lebanese Order of Physicians highlighted overcrowding in Lebanese prisons, and this health risk this poses during COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are 20 prisons for men, four for women and one juvenile prison holding a total of 8,300 inmates, 57 percent of whom are in the Roumieh Central Prison,” the LOP said. It added that 57 percent of prisoners are Lebanese and 23 percent are Syrian, one third have been convicted while the rest are awaiting trial, and the overcrowding is so bad each prisoner has the equivalent of only one square meter of space. The organization described the situation as “a time bomb that must be avoided.”

In other business during the session, as part of anticorruption reforms required as a condition for receiving international economic aid, the Parliament approved a law to increase transparency in the banking sector, with responsibility for this resting with the Investigation Authority of the Lebanese Central Bank and the Anti-Corruption Commission.

It also endorsed a draft law to create a mechanism for top-level appointments in public administrations, centers and institutions. An amendment was added to prevent ministers from changing or adding candidates for the position of director general. The FPM opposed this, while Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces voted in favor. Hariri accused the FPM of having a “desire to possess the entire country.”

MPs rejected a draft law to allow Lebanon to join the International Organization for Migration because, said MP Gebran Bassil, “it’s unconstitutional and facilitates the accession, integration and settlement process.” Lebanon hosts about 200,000 Palestinian and a million Syrian refugees.

The session sparked a wave of street protests. Some of them, led by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Lebanese Communist Party, opposed the approval of a general amnesty that includes those who fled to Israel.

Protesters burned the Israeli flag in Sidon in protest against a law that “affects Israeli agents who sold their land, fought their people, and plotted against them.” They set up a symbolic gallows on which they wrote: “This is the fate of Zionist agents who fled execution.”

Others, including the families of Muslim detainees, staged demonstrations in support of the amnesty.