Turkey is failing to take the necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties in its offensive against the Kurdish held enclave in northern Syria, said leading rights group Human Rights Watch on Friday. HRW cited three attacks in the Afrin province in late January that killed a total of 26 civilians, including 17 children.
In a statement, the New York-based group called on Turkey to thoroughly investigate these strikes and make the findings public.
Ankara last month launched Operation Olive Branch in the northern Syrian region of Afrin to fight the Kurdish militia YPG, which Washington views as a key ally in the battle against the Islamic State group.
Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, PKK. The PKK group is designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and EU.
Earlier in the month, Turkey warned the US that it was either make or break between the NATO allies that have strained badly over the Turkish military assault in Syria.
Continued fighting in Syria’s northern provinces has spurred new waves of immigration across the border into Turkey, consisting of tens of thousands of families, according to aid organisations.
Reports that Turkish border forces have been shooting indiscriminately at fleeing Syrians led to HRW to issue an urgent plea to Turkey to end its use of “lethal force” against Syrian refugees, and to stop forcibly returning them back to the unsafe conditions from which they fled.
“Conditions in Syria are not safe for refugee returns,” HRW’s deputy Middle East director Lama Fakih said.
“With hostilities in Afrin contributing to the growing displacement crisis in the country, Turkey should allow the thousands of desperate Syrians seeking refuge to cross the border,” Fakih added.
Nearly 120 civilians have been killed so far in the offensive according to several estimates, a claim Turkey denies.
Last week, Kurdish forces claimed that Turkey’s military had carried out a suspected gas attack, injuring six. Ankara responded to the accusation with a statement that it does not use “internationally-banned ammunition” in its Afrin campaign.
Washington also leapt to Ankara’s defence saying it was “extremely unlikely” that chemical weapons were used in the attack against the Kurds in Syria.