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Turkish-backed militants abused civilians in Syria, says Human Rights Watch

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Factions of the Syrian National Army (SNA), a non-state armed group backed by Turkey in northeast Syria, have summarily executed civilians and failed to account for aid workers who disappeared while working in the “safe zone,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.

The armed group has also apparently refused to allow the return of Kurdish families displaced by Turkish military operations and looted and unlawfully appropriated or occupied their property.

“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,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW, said.

“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.”

On Oct. 9 the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the armed group invaded territory in northeast Syria that since 2012 had been under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up primarily of the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Since the incursion began, Turkey and the factions it supports have indiscriminately shelled civilian areas, carried out at least seven summary killings, unlawfully occupied private civilian homes and shops and looted the owners’ property, and have not accounted for aid workers who may have been forcibly disappeared while working in their zones, according to HRW.

The watchdog also said it documented the execution of a Kurdish political activist, Hevrin Khalaf.

Turkey’s cross-border operation was aimed at removing the YPG from a 30-kilometer stretch along its border with Syria.

Turkey considers the YPG to be the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which for decades has been leading an armed insurgency against security forces in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

The YPG, however, has been the main ground force in the US-led military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

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