After three days, Turkey’s offensive has already killed hundreds and displace thousands. Many victims are civilians. A church was hit in Tall Jihan. The Middle East Council of Churches expresses its “sorrow”. Kurdish source says developments now depend 99 per cent on Trump. The offensive could destabilise Iraqi Kurdistan if flooded by refugees.
Damascus (AsiaNews) – Fighting between Kurdish forces and the Turkish army continued this morning, following the offensive launched three days ago by Ankara across the border into the north-eastern Syria.
After playing a key role in the fight against the Islamic State group, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an Arab-Kurdish alliance, are fighting to stop the Turkish advance, which yesterday saw 11 villages fall to Turkish troops, two of which taken from the Kurdish "enemy".
So far, the death toll is heavy: over a hundred dead, tens of thousands of people displaced and, in the United States, a head-on clash between US President Donald Trump – in favour of disengagement – and other US political leaders and institutions.
An anonymous but well-placed Kurdish source told AsiaNews that "what is happening will not help stability in the area". It will instead "cause millions more refugees". Over the past few years, the Kurds "have guaranteed stability in the area, protecting Christians and Arabs in Qamishli and fighting the Islamic State in Kobane and Raqqa".
The reasons given by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to justify ‘Operation Peace Spring’ are "specious", the source noted, because "in eight years of the Syrian war there has never been an attack from the Kurdish side against Turkey". But the opposite is true. "At least 35,000 terrorists have come from Turkey into Syria with their families, to kill Arabs and Kurds".
At present, the fighting is concentrated along a 120 km strip along the Syrian-Turkish border. Ankara is claiming that its offensive is aimed thwarting a threat posed by Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which is allied with the PKK, a Kurdish organisation deemed terrorist and outlawed in Turkey.
Ostensibly, Turkey’s goal is to create a safe buffer zone along the border for about three million Syrian refugees. In reality, Erdogan fears the birth of a Kurdish state along its border and is doing everything to prevent the realisation of this project, using the pretext of fighting terrorism.
Local sources report that almost all the residents in Tal Abyad and Ras al-Aïn have left their homes to escape the fighting.
In a statement the Turkish Defence Ministry announced that 227 Kurdish fighters have been killed since the start of the offensive. Turkish air strikes and shelling have killed nine civilians. In apparent retaliation, six people including a 9-month-old baby were killed by mortar fire into Turkish towns, Turkish officials said.
Turkish rockets and shells hit several towns with a substantial number of Christians, including Ras al-Ayn and Al-Darbasiyah, near Qamishli, causing casualties. The Syro-Orthodox Church in Tal Jihan was also hit.
Responding to reactions to his offensive, yesterday the Turkish president threatened Europe, saying that he would “open the gates and send 3.6 million refugees your way” if anyone called his offensive “an invasion”.
One of the dangers associated with the offensive is the flight of hundreds of jihadis, now locked up in prisons under Kurdish control along the border.
In Brussels, Ilham Ahmad, of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), asked the European Union to stop the Turkish aggression that threatens to let loose IS again and start a new era of violence and genocide.
"The first victims of the Turkish shelling were two Christians,” said the Kurdish source cited above. “In the area hit by rockets there is an important Christian community (Chaldean, Assyrian, Armenian) that has lived in peace with Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs for years. In the past few years, it is in Ankara that one finds those who favour terrorists travelling around the world."
This said, the offensive would not have been possible without the approval or in any case the tacit consent of Russia and the United States.
“Now the ball is back in Trump’s camp.” The US leader, “in some way, has endorsed the attack to distract public opinion at home from the possible impeachment over the Ukraine affair.”
"I’d like to remind the president, who spoke about the lack of Kurdish help in Normandy, that many Kurds fought as US marines against Japan. That said, now it's up to him to seek mediation; a short-term solution depends 99 per cent on him.”
"Kurds feel betrayed and abandoned by the West, by Europe in particular. At present, Turkish authorities have made new arrests among politicians, journalists and critical voices of the ongoing offensive against Syrian Kurds.”
"The real and present danger is the destabilisation of Iraqi Kurdistan, where hundreds of thousands of people will seek refuge, fleeing the bombs and violence if the offensive continues."
In light of the situation, the Council of Churches of the Middle East (MECC) has issued a statement, expressing its “deep sorrow” for the Turkish attack in north-eastern Syria, which could “have serious repercussions on its territorial integrity, and thus exacerbate the humanitarian situation of refugees and displaced persons.”
Hopeful that Syria’s unity will be maintained, the MECC "raises its prayers for the end of all forms of violence and for the protection of human dignity which is the pillar of any peace or stability”.
The Mideast Churches also strongly affirm “the right of peoples to self-determination, in line with Arab and international instruments, and upon values of love, justice, human rights and common responsibility in peacebuilding.”
For this reason, they call on “stakeholders to stop the cycle of war and violence in the blessed region of the East, the cradle of coexisting religions".