Concerns are growing over the humanitarian impact caused by Turkey’s military offensive into northeastern Syria, an operation that has sparked a political firestorm in the United States over the fate of US-allied Kurds in the area.
At least eight people were killed — including three Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters and five civilians — and dozens of others were injured during the first day of the Turkish military operation, the SDF tweeted late Wednesday.
International aid agencies say that hundreds of thousands of people, who have already endured eight years of a protracted conflict, could be at risk as Turkey launches air and ground strikes to clear US-allied Kurdish forces from its border areas.
“As Turkish offensive in Syria begins, the IRC is deeply concerned about the lives and livelihoods of the two million civilians in northeast Syria who have already survived ISIS brutality and multiple displacements,” the International Rescue Committee said in a statement Thursday.
As a barrage of airstrikes and artillery fire volleyed into northern Syria Wednesday, chaotic scenes unfolded on the ground as people tried to flee to safety. Roads were gridlocked with hundreds of fleeing families, motorcycles piled with five to six people and mattresses strapped to cars.
Reports began to filter in on Wednesday following the aerial bombardment, with the SDF tweeting that two civilians had been killed and two others injured in the village of Misharrafa, west of Ras al-Ain.
The US-backed SDF said civilian homes in the village of Sikarkah in eastern Qamishli and areas near the Bouzra dam in Derik — which provides water to hundreds of thousands of civilians in northern Syria — were also targeted.
UPDATE: The archbishop of Aleppo has weighed in. From Vatican News:
The news on Wednesday afternoon that Turkish armed forces and Syrian rebel allies had launched a military attack “east of the Euphrates” has raised fears of a worsening humanitarian crisis and more civilian victims.
In an interview with SIR news agency, Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart said he fears “a slaughter and many innocent deaths”.
Reacting to Turkey’s decision to launch an attack on Syrian territory held by Kurdish-led forces with the aim of creating a “safe zone” cleared of Kurdish militias, Jeanbart, who is the Greek-Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo, said that although the Turkish President has called it “Operation Peace Spring”, it is “another source of violence we would rather have done without.”
“It is terrible,” he said.
Commenting on the Turkish President’s declared intent to “prevent the creation of a terror corridor” on the border, Jeanbart said this is concerning because it will in fact lead to the creation of a extra-territorial pocket within another nation.
What’s more, Jeanbart noted “this area would occupy one of the most resource-rich parts of Syria, with water, oil, gas and fertile land.”
He also commented on Turkey’s purported aim to transfer some 2 million Syrian refugees currently hosted by Turkey into the so-called “safe-zone,” a move he said that would risk causing a “demographic earthquake, displacing Kurds from their homes and lands and creating the conditions for serious internal tensions.”
“It would be inhumane,” he said, and he expressed his belief that the conditions for an agreement between the parts that would safeguard the different requests put forward, still exist.
Let us pray:
Lord God of peace, hear our prayer!
We have tried so many times and over so many years to resolve our conflicts by our own powers and by the force of our arms. How many moments of hostility and darkness have we experienced; how much blood has been shed; how many lives have been shattered; how many hopes have been buried… But our efforts have been in vain.
Now, Lord, come to our aid! Grant us peace, teach us peace; guide our steps in the way of peace. Open our eyes and our hearts, and give us the courage to say: “Never again war!”; “With war everything is lost”. Instill in our hearts the courage to take concrete steps to achieve peace.
Lord, God of Abraham, God of the Prophets, God of Love, you created us and you call us to live as brothers and sisters. Give us the strength daily to be instruments of peace; enable us to see everyone who crosses our path as our brother or sister. Make us sensitive to the plea of our citizens who entreat us to turn our weapons of war into implements of peace, our trepidation into confident trust, and our quarreling into forgiveness.
Keep alive within us the flame of hope, so that with patience and perseverance we may opt for dialogue and reconciliation. In this way may peace triumph at last, and may the words “division”, “hatred” and “war” be banished from the heart of every man and woman. Lord, defuse the violence of our tongues and our hands. Renew our hearts and minds, so that the word which always brings us together will be “brother”, and our way of life will always be that of: Shalom, Peace, Salaam!