Pinheiro: Turkish attacks on SDF-held areas affect hundreds of thousands of civilians

“All parties must respect the Syrian people’s freedoms of opinion, expression and assembly, and recognise their legitimate aspirations and human rights. This is key for ending the conflict,” said the UN official.

Paulo Pinheiro, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, spoke about “the largest escalation of hostilities in Syria in four years”.

There appears to be total disregard for civilian lives in what are often tit for tat reprisals, said Pinheiro, and stressed that there can be no justification for deliberately attacking civilians.

The UN official commented on the latest wave of Turkish attacks on SDF-held areas in North-East Syria “in apparent retaliation for an attack that injured two members of Turkish security forces in Ankara on 1 October, destroying and damaging power and water stations, affecting hundreds of thousands of civilians.”

The action in question targeted the Security General Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs near the Parliament in capital Ankara on 1 October. The sacrificial action was carried out by a team affiliated with the Brigade of the Immortals, according to the People’s Defense Center (HSM) Headquarters Command.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan held a press conference on 4 October, claiming that the attackers came from Syria. Fidan vowed to carry out attacks on the autonomous region of northern and eastern Syria and declared the entire infrastructure and energy supply of the "PKK/YPG in Iraq and Syria" as a legitimate target. "I advise third parties to stay away from PKK/YPG facilities and people," said the Turkish foreign minister.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) General Commander Mazlum Abdi denied the Turkish allegations and said: "The perpetrators of the Ankara attack did not pass through our regions as Turkish officials claimed. We are not a party to the civil conflict in Turkey and we do not encourage the escalation of this conflict. Turkey's search for excuses to legitimize its ongoing attacks on our regions and launch a new military offensive increases our deep concern. Targeting the infrastructure and economic resources of the region and its populated cities is a war crime. Therefore, we call on the guarantor parties and the international community to take appropriate positions against these recurring threats and ensure peace and stability in the region."

The SDF Media Center also issued a statement to reject "all the allegations made by Turkish officials about the crossing of the perpetrators of the attack on the Turkish capital, Ankara."

The statement denied the “untrue repeated accusations”, which, it said, come “as a continuation of the cycle of false accusations that Turkey has always pursued during the recent period to divert attention from its internal problems and crises and pave the way for the crimes of ethnic cleansing and genocide against our people." SDF vowed that: "Our forces reiterate their steadfast commitment to ensuring internal and regional security."

Pinheiro also spoke about the attack on a graduation ceremony at the Homs Military Academy that killed and injured scores on 5 October. He said that the retaliation by Syrian forces in just four days of ground shelling over greater Idlib resulted in the death and injury of some two hundred civilians and affecting medical facilities, schools and markets.

“The longstanding lack of respect for fundamental international humanitarian law norms in Syria not only kills and maims victims on all sides in Syria, it has undermined and eroded the very essence of the international protection system and we are seeing the results today in other ongoing conflicts,” said the UN official.

Pinheiro continued: “The demonstrations in Suweyda remind us that Syrians have not given up on their freedom to peacefully assemble and claim their rights. All parties must respect the Syrian people’s freedoms of opinion, expression and assembly, and recognise their legitimate aspirations and human rights. This is key to ending the conflict.”

Calling for action by the international community, Pinheiro added: “It is critical that the human rights and legitimate demands of the Syrian people, including victims and survivors, are central to all your diplomatic efforts. Turning our backs on them, or just simply maintaining the status quo, perpetuates rather than relieves their misery. The international community can and must do much more.”