Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters are on a bus in the town of al-Rai, Syria February 14, 2018. REUTERS
CAIRO – 20 March 2018: Two days after Turkey’s flag was raised in the northern Syrian town of Afrin, angry users took to social media condemning the operation in Afrin and calling for the expulsion of Ankara from NATO.
Turkey launched an “oppressive” operation on January 20 in Afrin to clear the city from the Syrian-Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which formed the backbone in the fight against the Islamic State (IS).
The operation left deaths and injuries among civilians; also, shops and private properties were spotted looted by Turkish-backed rebel fighters.
After controlling the city center, the Turkish-backed rebel fighters reportedly ripped off the military sites, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
Turkish-backed militants loot shops after seizing control of the northwestern Syrian region of Afrin from Kurdish militants, March 18, 2018 - AFP
A Turkish-backed Syrian Arab fighter towing looted items in a trailer after seizing control of the northwestern Syrian city of Afrin from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) on March 18, 2018 - AFP
Olive Branch may include Northern Iraq
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday that he considers controlling Afrin city center as “the most important step” of Operation Olive Branch. He added that the operation may continue along the whole Syrian border with Turkey, and into northern Iraq if required.
Erdogan uncovered his intention to send the troops to Syrian towns controlled by U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, including Manbij, Ayn al-Arab, Tel Abyad, Ras al-Ain, and Qamishli.
Syrian cities map – Wikimedia Commons
Although Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu claimed earlier that an agreement with the U.S. on Manbij was reached, and that the YPG militia would leave the city, the U.S. Department of State's spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said Thursday that the U.S. and Turkey have not reached an agreement yet.
In his speech before AKP parliamentarians in February, Erdogan ordered the U.S. to oust YPG fighters from Manbij. “We will come to deliver the land to its true owners," he stated.
Two months of humanitarian crisis
Fifty seven days after Turkey announced launching the military operation in Afrin to “neutralize” the city from the YPG militia that Turkey considers “terrorists”, Turkish-backed rebel forces took control of the city, with more than 140 civilians killed, according to the latest assessment from the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Dozens of children were among the deaths, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported.
The “Olive Branch” operation led more than 150,000 civilians to flee the city in the past few days, SOHR reported on Saturday.
Afrin hospital, which is considered the only hospital equipped for major operations, is reportedly overwhelmed with injured people, Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated.
In addition, Turkish control of many water resources and the destruction of a pumping station have led to a severe water shortage, Shamdasani added.
Egypt condemned on Monday Turkey’s “occupation” of northern Syria’s city of Afrin and the human rights violations carried out by the Turkish troops in the city.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry described the current situation as an “occupation” of Afrin and said in a statement that the Turkish military operation has violated civilians’ rights and forced them to flee the city.
Continuous violations of Syria’s sovereignty is “unacceptable” the statement read, adding that such violations complicate the political situation, foil current conflict settlement efforts, and worsen the humanitarian crisis in the country.