The United Nations says Turkey’s now-suspended offensive against Kurdish militants in northern Syria has displaced about 180,000 people, including tens of thousands of children.
Ursula Mueller, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights “has received concerning reports of civilian casualties and damage to critical civilian infrastructure” since the onset of the military operation.
Addressing the UN Security Council (UNSC) in New York on Thursday, the humanitarian official noted that the offensive, which “severely impacted the humanitarian situation, forced “almost 180,000 people, including close to 80,000 children,” to flee south from the border areas between Turkey and Syria.
Speaking during the UNSC meeting, Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s Permanent Representative to the UN, slammed Turkey for launching the offensive, saying “the Turkish regime started a new chapter in its aggression against my country, in flagrant violation of international law, the principles of the charter, the resolutions of this council, the outcome documents of the Astana rounds, and the understandings of Sochi.”
In response, the Turkish ambassador, Feridun Sinirlioglu, maintained that “the operation was conducted in full respect of international and international humanitarian law.”
“It only targeted terrorists and their hideouts, weapons and vehicles. We took all necessary measures to prevent any harm to civilians and damage to civilian infrastructure,” he said.
On October 9, the Turkish military launched a cross-border operation in northeastern Syria in an attempt to clear the Syrian border areas of Kurdish militants of the so-called People’s Protection Units (YPG), whom Ankara views as terrorists linked to the autonomy-seeking Kurdish militants at home.
The incursion began after the US announced it was withdrawing its forces from northeastern Syria, effectively abandoning its longtime Kurdish allies there and giving NATO partner Turkey the go-ahead for the operation.
Turkey agreed on October 17 to halt its Syria offensive for five days to allow the YPG militants to pull out of the border area following talks with the US.
As the deadline was about to end, Ankara struck a groundbreaking deal with Moscow, under which it agreed not to renew the operation in exchange for the Kurds to withdraw a line 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Turkish border.