Syria Today – HRW Blames Turkey for Possible War Crimes

Turkey bears responsibility for possible war crimes in Syria, Human Rights Watch says

Human Rights Watch says Turkey bears responsibility for some of the abuses and possible war crimes committed in Syria, mostly against Kurdish residents in northern Syria

In swathes of northern Syria, Türkiye is an occupying power.

It exercises administrative and military control on the Syrian side of its southern border both directly and through a de facto proxy it helped create, the Syrian National Army (SNA), a loose coalition of armed opposition groups that is largely made up of former Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters.

The Turkish government has stated that it aims to turn the areas it occupies into “safe zones,” both to create a security buffer on its southern border and to accommodate returns of Syrian refugees living in Türkiye. But these areas are not safe; they are rife with human rights abuses primarily perpetrated by factions of the SNA and life for the region’s 1.4 million residents is characterized by lawlessness and insecurity. “Everything is by the power of the weapon,” said one former resident who lived under SNA rule for just under 3 years.

Based on interviews with 58 victims, survivors, relatives, and witnesses of violations, as well as various representatives of non-governmental organizations, journalists, activists, and researchers, this report documents abductions, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, including of children, sexual violence, and torture by the various factions of the SNA, the Military Police, a force established to curb such abuses, and members of the Turkish Armed Forces and Turkish intelligence agencies, including the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and a number of military intelligence directorates.

It also documents violations of housing, land, and property rights, including widespread looting and pillaging as well as property seizures and extortion, and exposes the abject failure of most of the accountability measures introduced in recent years to curb abuses or to provide restitution to victims. As long as impunity for grave and systematic human rights abuses and possible war crimes reigns, hopes of return for the hundreds of thousands displaced and dispossessed Syrians who fled their homes during and after Türkiye’s successive military operations into the region continue to diminish. Many live in overstretched and underserved camps and collective shelters across northeast Syria today.

Since 2016, Türkiye has conducted three military operations into northern Syria aimed at weakening the Kurdish presence along its border. In its first operation in 2016, it occupied the predominantly Arab region north of Aleppo that included Azaz, al-Bab, and Jarablus, which had previously been under the control of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). In its second incursion in 2018, it captured Afrin, a Kurdish majority enclave just west of Azaz which had been under the control of Kurdish-led forces since 2012. And in its third incursion in 2019, Turkish Armed Forces wrested control of a roughly 150-kilometer-long and 30 km deep narrow strip of land between Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain (Kurdish name: Serekaniye) in northeast Syria from Kurdish-led forces.

It carried out all three operations with the help of various local armed groups, including Turkmen groups, former Free Syrian Army groups, and other Islamist groups that in 2017 became collectively known as the Syrian National Army (SNA). The military incursions led to massive displacement and were fraught with serious abuses of both human rights and humanitarian law, including indiscriminate shelling, summary killings, unlawful arrests, torture and enforced disappearances, and systematic pillaging and unlawful seizure of property.

Israeli Airstrikes Hit Iran-Backed Militia Bases In Syria

Israeli forces have hit Iran-backed militia in two locations near Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported, quoted by IranInternation.com.

According to the NGO, the attack resulted in the deaths of two Syrian Hezbollah supporters, while six other people were wounded.

Syria’s defense ministry also reported Israeli strikes near Damascus Wednesday night, marking the latest in a series of attacks against Iran-backed forces in the region.

“The Israeli enemy launched air strikes from the direction of the occupied Syrian Golan, targeting a number of sites in the Damascus countryside,” the ministry said in a statement carried by state media.

The Israeli Defense Forces did not comment on the strike.

Lebanese television channel Al Maydeen, known for its pro-Iranian stance, reported a significant explosion heard in the heavily fortified Sayeda Zainab neighborhood of the Syrian capital, where a major Shiite shrine is located. No additional details were provided.

The neighborhood is in southern Damascus, where Iran-backed groups have a string of underground bases.

Syriac Union Party Condemns Turkish Drone Strikes in Syria’s Derik

The Syriac Union Party condemned on Thursday the Turkish drone strikes that resulted in the killing of three Syriac members of the Sutoro Police, affiliated with the Internal Security Forces of North and East Syria (Asayish), in the city of Derik (al-Malikiyah) in the far northeast of Syria, North Press reported.

The Syriac Union Party urged in statement the U.S.-led Global coalition, the U.S., and Russia to pressure Turkey to cease its attacks on areas held by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).

The statement added that Turkey’s ongoing threat to Northeast Syria destabilizes the region, which in turn affects the activities of the Islamic State (ISIS) and militias affiliated with Turkey, Iran, and the Syrian government.

Furthermore, the statement added that the AANES has never posed a threat to Turkish national security and that it always seeks to establish good neighborly relations with all bordering countries.

On Feb.28, Turkish drone strikes targeted four vehicles in Derik, resulting in casualties and material damage to areas surrounding the scene of the attacks.

Lebanon serves as intermediary for money transfers to Syria

Enab Baladi published a report arguing that Lebanon acts as a key intermediary for financial remittances to and from Syria, circumventing the Syrian regime’s stringent currency controls. With open borders and no restrictions on handling foreign currencies, Lebanon provides a vital channel for Syrians to send and receive money, avoiding the regime’s penalties on unlicensed transactions. Despite government efforts to regulate and benefit from currency exchanges, many Syrians prefer the black market for better exchange rates. Economic sanctions and currency control decrees have deeply affected Syria’s economy, making remittances through Lebanon an essential support for Syrian families.

Lebanon has emerged as a crucial intermediary for financial remittances to and from Syria, offering a workaround to the strict currency regulations imposed by the Syrian regime. The Syrian government has issued several decrees to control foreign and local currency transactions within its borders, including bans on dealing in foreign currencies for commercial exchanges and stringent penalties for unlicensed currency exchange and international money transfers.

Syrians, including individuals and both official and unofficial remittance offices, navigate these restrictions to maintain the flow of remittances, vital for the livelihoods of both senders and recipients. Lebanon’s role as a financial conduit is attributed to its open borders with Syria, daily private transport links, and the absence of prohibitions on handling foreign currency remittances, making it a safer option for avoiding legal repercussions in Syria.

Remittance transactions through Lebanon involve either physical transfers to Syria via intermediaries connected to the Syrian security apparatus or maintaining liquidity in Lebanon for future transactions. The choice of Lebanon is also driven by the need to circumvent liquidity shortages in Syrian offices, especially in less populous areas or even Damascus, with money often transferred via taxi drivers or coordinated with border officers for larger sums.

The fees for these remittances vary based on several factors, including the amount, destination city, and the number of intermediaries involved. Despite the regime’s attempts to control currency transactions and benefit from exchange rate differences, many Syrians prefer the black market for better rates. The sanctions on Syria have severely impacted its economy, pushing the regime to issue decrees aimed at keeping foreign currencies within the country and limiting expatriates’ options for sending money back home.

At the time of reporting, the exchange rate of the Syrian pound was significantly lower on the black market compared to the official rate, influencing Syrians’ preference for black market remittances. The Syrian regime’s latest salary increase does little to alleviate the financial pressures faced by its citizens, further underscoring the importance of remittances in supporting families within the country.

Lebanon serves as intermediary for money transfers to Syria.

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