Turkish strikes exacerbate humanitarian crisis, HRW says

Turkish airstrikes are inflicting damage on densely populated areas and critical infrastructure in northern and northeastern Syria and worsening an already catastrophic humanitarian crisis for Kurds, Arabs and other communities in the region, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.

Speaking to HRW, international humanitarian workers and local residents said the strikes have displaced families, caused significant power cuts and fuel shortages, forced aid organizations to temporarily suspend certain activities and led to school and work disruption.

Turkey has launched airstrikes on hundreds of Kurdish targets in Iraq and Syria since November 20. The offensive, codenamed Operation Claw-Sword, started a week after a blast in central İstanbul killed six people and wounded 81, an attack Turkey has blamed on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“Turkey’s attacks on populated areas and critical infrastructure across north and northeast Syria is putting civilians’ basic rights further at risk,” said Adam Coogle, deputy Middle East director at HRW. “Syrians are already enduring a humanitarian catastrophe, a growing displacement crisis, and an economy in free fall. Turkey’s military strikes risk making an already unbearable situation much worse for Kurds, Arabs, and other communities.”

The overnight raids in northern and northeastern Syria killed at least 31 people including Kurdish-Syrian journalist Isam Hesen Ebdullah, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. They mainly targeted positions held by Syrian Kurdish forces.

Turkey says it has attacked Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Syrian Armed Forces positions, but it also hit a Covid-19 treatment center, a school, grain silos, power plants, gas stations, oil fields and a road frequently used by civilians and aid workers. Turkey has also launched airstrikes in northern Iraq that it said targeted PKK positions.

The airstrikes began just days after Turkey and 81 other countries adopted a political declaration to better protect civilians worldwide from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

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