Turkey’s strongman leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan stands accused of telling Israel not to commit the very war crimes in Gaza that his forces are inflicting on Kurdish communities in northern Syria – killing children and cutting off water and electricity to civilians.
Following a Cabinet meeting on October 8, Erdogan asserted that, unlike Israel, “Turkey does not kill children”.
On October 10, billing Turkey as a mediator that should be invited to help negotiate a peace between the Israelis and Palestinian Hamas, Erdogan criticised Israel for imposing a total blockade of Gaza in response to the unprecedented cross-border bloody attack mounted by Hamas.
"They [the Israelis] cut providing water and electricity to Gaza. Where are the human rights? This is against the universal declaration of human rights," he said in a joint press conference with visiting Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer in Ankara.
The Hamas attack on Israel started at a time when Turkey was already well advanced in conducting heavy military operations in Syria in attempts at crushing Syrian Kurdish groups it deems “insurgent” and “terrorist”. One of those groups, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is the Pentagon’s top partner in the fight against Islamic State in Syria, but Ankara refuses to make any distinction, saying it is essentially the same group as the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Syrian Kurdish officials have charged that as of October 11, 11 civilians were among the victims of the Turkish strikes, including five women and two children.
Mazlum Kobane, the SDF commander-in-chief, tweeted: “The Turkish president’s statement naming the war that leads to cutting off water, electricity and roads and destroying infrastructure, places of worship and schools as ‘massacres’ [in Gaza] is exactly what his government is doing in north-east Syria. Turkish occupation commits 'massacres' and war crimes every day.”
“These Turkish airstrikes against us are war crimes against all international laws and regulations,” Bedran Ciya Kurd, foreign affairs spokesperson for the SDF’s civilian arm, known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, was reported by Al-Monitor as saying in a news conference on October 10.
Al-Monitor said it has documented at least three cases in which children perished in previous Turkish drone strikes against alleged PKK targets in northeast Syria.
Turkey’s targets in its latest operations have included oil installations, power grids and potable water sources. An intensive effort is under way to paralyse economic life in the Kurdish-led zone targeted by Ankara.
Kurd, who reiterated the SDF claim that the group is not connected to the PKK or the PKK suicide bomb attack on Turkey’s national police headquarters in Ankara on October 1, said Turkey had bombed 180 civilian infrastructure targets, including 14 oil stations, nine power stations, eight water stations and 48 schools.
More than 10,000 children were being deprived of education and entire communities were left without potable water as a result, he added.
Al-Monitor said it could not independently corroborate any of the claims. However, aid workers on the ground said that the attacks had caused major damage to infrastructure critical to civilians across the targeted region. At least 800,000 people had been affected, they said.
The Kurdish Red Crescent confirmed that Suweida power station was offline. It is the sole source of permanent electricity provision in the Hasakah governorate, populated by more than 1.5mn people.
The SDF, though allied with 900 US troops that remain in Syria, has accused Washington of a weak response to Turkey’s devastating aggression in the Kurdish zone.
US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on October 10 that the United States remained “concerned about military activity in northern Syria, its impacts on the civilian population and infrastructure, and the impact on the effectiveness of our operations to ensure the last defeat of [Islamic State]."
Miller added: “We continue to support the current ceasefire lines and call for a de-escalation of violence. It is crucial for all sides to maintain and respect ceasefire zones and to de-escalate violent activity to enhance stability in Syria and work toward a political solution to the conflict.”
The US is counting on fellow Nato member Turkey to ratify Sweden’s application to join the defence bloc in the coming weeks. This factor will be part of Washington’s calculations as it decides on further responses to Turkey’s targeting of the Syrian Kurds.