LEADER’S KILLING DEEPENS SENSE OF BETRAYAL
WASHINGTON, Oct 22, (RTRS): US lawmakers kept up their push on Monday to impose sanctions on Turkey if it does not end its offensive in northeastern Syria, and a leading Kurdish politician called on President Donald Trump to stop the “ethnic cleansing” of her people. “We need to stop the slaughter. We need to ensure that we don’t enable ISIS (the Islamic State militant group),” Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen told a news conference. Lawmakers said they were working to sign more co-sponsors of legislation to impose tough economic penalties on Turkey.
Ilham Ahmed, a Kurdish political leader and president of the Syrian Democratic Council Executive Committee, joined the lawmakers. Speaking through a translator, she called Trump to reverse his decision two weeks ago to remove US forces from Syria, which cleared the way for Turkey’s cross-border offensive.
“They want to attack us. They want to kill hundreds of thousands of us,” she said. Trump said on Monday he did not want to leave any American troops in Syria, aside from a small number to secure oil production. His position has frustrated members of Congress, including several of his fellow Republicans. They consider the withdrawal of troops a betrayal of Kurdish allies who for years have helped the United States fight against Islamic State. Hearings on the situation are scheduled in both the Senate and House of Representatives this week and some congressional leaders expect a vote on legislation within the coming weeks. “Talk about the oil fields is a cruel distraction from the ongoing humanitarian disaster,” said Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who said he felt “horror and shame” about the Kurds. Lawmakers also worry that renewed fighting in Syria will lead to the release of captured Islamic State fighters.
Van Hollen and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham last Thursday announced legislation that would impose “crippling” sanctions on the government in Ankara and said they would press ahead despite the announcement of a five-day ceasefire. “I blame Turkey more than anyone. Turkey’s invasion has put at risk the defeat of the caliphate,” Graham said on Monday, referring to territory once held by Islamic State.
Graham said he wanted to see a demilitarized zone between Turkey and Kurdish fighters, monitored by international forces, a continued US partnership with those fighters and an effort to guard and monitor oil fields in southern Syria, but that Ankara needed to back down first. Turkey’s offensive has displaced some 300,000 people and led to 120 casualties among civilians and 470 among SDF fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday.
Turkey says 765 terrorists but no civilians have been killed. Kurdish politician Hevrin Khalaf spent the final months of her life building a political party that she hoped would help shape Syria’s future, drawing the attention of US officials who said it would have a say in what happened once the war ended. To her colleagues in the Future Syria Party and Kurdish communities in Syria’s northeast more broadly, her killing became a symbol of betrayal by the United States.
As recently as Oct 3, State Department officials reassured her at a meeting that Washington would safeguard northern Syria from a threatened Turkish assault by mediating between Kurdishled forces and Ankara, according to a colleague who was present. A state department official said the US message to Syrian partners had been consistent: that American forces would be withdrawing from the country. Days after the meeting, Trump announced US forces would quit the region, leaving it vulnerable to attack by Turkey.
Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria, key allies in the US battle against Islamic State, said rebels fighting on the Turkish side murdered Khalaf. She was 34. She was slain on Oct 12 along with a driver and aide when Turkey-backed fighters stopped their SUV on the M4 highway in northern Syria, according to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and officials in her party.
The spokesman for the Turkey-backed Syrian rebel force, the National Army, at the time denied its fighters killed her, saying they had not advanced as far as the M4. Last week, the spokesman, Youssef Hammoud, said the incident was being investigated among other “breaches”.
“If America hadn’t decided to withdraw, these factions … would not have dared to carry out their operations in that area,” said Moaz Abdul Karim, a Future Syria Party leader. The US State Department has said it was looking into reports of Khalaf’s death apparently while in the hands of Turkey- backed forces, calling the reports “extremely troubling”. An autopsy report circulated by the SDF said Khalaf’s body had been riddled with bullets. On Oct 3, US State Department representatives visited the Future Syria Party’s headquarters in the Syrian city of Raqqa and told Khalaf and party president Ibrahim al- Kaftan that American efforts in the region were aimed at mediation.
Hundreds of Kurdish fighters remain near to Syria’s northeast border despite a US-brokered truce demanding their withdrawal and Turkey could resume its offensive in the area when the ceasefire expires, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. The five-day truce in Turkey’s cross-border offensive to allow the withdrawal of Kurdish YPG fighters from the border area ends at 10:00 pm (1900 GMT) on Tuesday. Turkey says Kurdish YPG militia forces, which it views as terrorists because of their links to Kurdish militants waging an insurgency in southeast Turkey, must leave a “safe zone” it wants to establish inside Syria.
“The withdrawal is continuing,” Erdogan told reporters at Ankara airport before flying to Russia for talks on Syria with President Vladimir Putin, who supports the Damascus government and has also sent troops to northeast Syria. “We are talking about 700-800 (YPG fighters) already withdrawn and the rest, around 1,200-1,300, are continuing to withdraw. It has been said that they will withdraw,” Erdogan said.
“All will have to get out, the process will not end before they are out.” Turkey began its cross-border operation nearly two weeks ago following Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from northern Syria. The American withdrawal from Syria has been criticized by US lawmakers, including some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, as a betrayal of Kurdish allies who have helped the United States fight Islamic State in Syria. Trump said on Monday it appeared that the five-day pause was holding despite skirmishes, and that it could possibly go beyond Tuesday’s expiry, but Erdogan said the fighting may resume