At least 100 civilians have been killed in a two-month military operation by Ankara and Turkish-backed forces in northern Syria, a monitoring group says, as pressures grow on Ankara to stop the drive which many suspect is really meant to battle militants.
The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday that Turkish airstrikes and shelling as part of the assault have killed 96 civilians, including 22 children, since it was launched on August 24.
The Britain-based group said the operation, dubbed the “Euphrates Shield”, has mostly affected Kurdish people in areas under the control of Daesh Takfiri terrorist group in northern Syria. It added that the attacks are carried out by Turkish-backed militants while Turkey’s military lends them heavy firepower — mostly airstrikes and artillery fired from Turkish soil.
The head of the group, Rami Abdel Rahman, said the attacks have also claimed the lives of several members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-Arab alliance of fighters dominated by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a group backed by Western powers but fiercely opposed by Turkey.
Turkey began the military push despite opposition by the Syrian government and even a Western coalition claiming to fight Daesh in Syria.
Ankara has defended the offensive as a countermeasure against attacks by militants on its soil. Turkish officials have not denied that the military and allied militants also target Kurdish fighters, but they insist that the main objective behind the offensive is to attack Daesh positions.
Ankara has yet to comment on the Monday report by the monitoring group but Turkish officials have in the past rejected accusations of civilian deaths in the campaign.
For more than a year, Turkey has been gripped by a domestic insurgency which it blames on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). A massive military operation against suspected PKK positions southeast of Turkey has claimed many lives, with rights campaigners and pro-Kurdish political parties accusing the military of indiscriminately targeting the civilians.
Ankara says it has managed to clear an area of 1,000 square kilometers along its borders inside Syria and that the operation will continue to create a 5,000-square-kilometer safe zone in the Arab country. The Turkish-backed militants have recaptured two cities of Jarablus and Dabiq from Daesh during the two-month offensive.
Turkey is also involved in a similar military intervention in the north of neighboring Iraq, where the Arab country’s military and allies are busy battling Daesh in the city of Mosul. Iraqis have repeatedly called on Ankara to withdraw its contingent of troops from a camp north of Mosul, but the plea has fallen on deaf ears.