HRW Says Turkey North Syria 'Safe Zone' Not Safe
Human Rights Watch on Wednesday denounced abuses including executions and home confiscations in a Turkish-controlled swathe of northern Syria, where Ankara says it wants to resettle Syrian refugees.
Turkey last month established what it has dubbed a "safe zone" in a 120-kilometre (70-mile)-long strip of land it seized from Syrian Kurdish fighters along its southern border.
The New York-based watchdog urged Turkey and its Syrian proxies to investigate "human rights abuses, in many cases potential war crimes," in the area running 30 kilometres (18 miles) deep into Syrian territory.
"Executing individuals, pillaging property and blocking displaced people from returning to their homes is damning evidence of why Turkey's proposed 'safe zones' will not be safe," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.
Ankara claims it wants to resettle some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it hosts on Turkish soil in the area grabbed through a deadly offensive and subsequent deals.
"Contrary to Turkey's narrative that their operation will establish a safe zone, the groups they are using to administer the territory are themselves committing abuses against civilians and discriminating on ethnic grounds," Whitson said.
The group also said that Turkey-backed fighters had failed to account for aid workers who disappeared while working in the "safe zone".
Turkey's October 9 invasion was the latest in a series of military operations on Syrian soil against Kurdish fighters it views as "terrorists".
Another Turkey-led offensive early last year saw pro-Ankara fighters take the northwestern region of Afrin from Kurdish combatants, with rights groups also reporting similar abuses in that region.
Turkish state media on Friday said around 70 Syrians, including women and children, crossed the border to the Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn in the first of such returns.
But analysts have cast doubt on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's claims that Turkey can repatriate up to two million Syrians to the "safe zone".