VOA Persian’s Ali Javanmardi contributed to this report from Irbil.
Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces say Turkey’s three-day-old offensive in northern Syria aimed at clearing a border zone of Kurdish forces has displaced more than 10,000 people from their homes.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali provided the estimate of displaced people in a Friday interview with VOA Persian from his base in the northern Syrian town of Qamishli, adjacent to the Turkish border.
The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) gave a much higher estimate of 100,000 people having fled their homes by Friday, with most seeking shelter in the northern Syrian towns of Al-Hasakah and Tal Tamer.
“The Turkish offensive is not aimed only at the Kurds,” Bali said. “It is against all Syrian groups in the region, including Christians and Arab Muslims.” He said Turkish bombardments had cut off water supplies in several Syrian towns near the Turkish border. OCHA said a water station in Al-Hasakah servicing about 400,000 people was out of action.
Buffer zone sought
Ankara launched the cross-border operation on Wednesday, saying it wanted to clear a buffer zone in northern Syria of Syrian Kurdish forces, whom it sees as terrorist allies of Kurdish separatists in Turkey.
Turkey reported its first military fatality three days into its incursion into Syria. The defense ministry said three other soldiers were wounded, without giving details. Civilian casualties also were reported in the Turkish-Syrian border region.
NATO urged Turkey, an alliance member, to exercise restraint.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg acknowledged Turkey’s legitimate security concerns about the Syrian Kurdish fighters but warned that the offensive could “jeopardize” progress made against the Islamic State terror group that previously held territory in northern Syria.
Turkey expects NATO support
Stoltenberg spoke at a news conference in Istanbul with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. Cavusoglu said Turkey expected solidarity from NATO against the threats it faces.
Explosions were reported in the northern Syrian border towns of Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad on Friday as the Turkish military offensive continued.
“I am very concerned by reports of civilian casualties on both sides of the border, and of large numbers of people moving inside Syria in the hope of avoiding the fighting,” said Mark Lowcock, U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator. He made the comments in a statement published Friday, the second day of a two-day visit to Ankara and the Turkish-Syrian border.
“I reiterate what the secretary-general of the United Nations has said: that we urge all parties to exercise restraint, to act in line with their obligations under the U.N. charter and international humanitarian law, to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, and in particular to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure,” Lowcock said.
Speaking to VOA Persian, SDF spokesman Bali said people in northern Syria were “frustrated and disappointed” that President Donald Trump withdrew dozens of U.S. troops that had been stationed in northern Syria earlier this week, shortly before Turkey launched the offensive. The troops were part of a U.S. military deployment that has partnered with the SDF in the fight against IS.
“The United States didn’t stop the Turks from doing this offensive,” Bali said.
Trump has said he pulled out the U.S. troops because they had defeated IS and he did not want them to be caught up in an offensive that Ankara long had threatened to carry out against Syrian Kurdish forces. His administration has strongly criticized the Turkish offensive and denied green-lighting it.