“Peace Spring” areas in February 2021| Over 50 arbitrary arrests…dozens of people killed and injured in blasts and factional infighting…ongoing violations and vandalism

Violations against human rights have been escalating in areas under the control of Turkish forces and their proxy factions in Al-Hasakah and Al-Raqqah, known as “Peace Spring” areas since they were captured in October 2019. These forces’ aim is to accomplish specific economic and political objectives through exploiting the region’s bounties, resources and people.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has monitored and tracked all developments and violations committed in “Peace Spring” areas in February 2021.

In February, 14 people were killed in “Peace Spring” areas, and they were as follows:

Four civilians, including a woman and her two children, were killed in explosions in Ras Al-Ain.  

Four fighters of Turkish-backed “Al-Hamza Division” were killed in a landmine explosion which targeted their bus, north of Al-Alban farm located in Tel Tamer countryside.

Three fighters of “Suleiman Shah” were killed in attack on their positions by a guided missile fired by the SDF on frontline of the town of Al-Musherfeh in the area of Ain Issa.

Brother of a leader of the “Sultan Murad” Division was killed in an armed fight with the “Suleiman Shah” faction.

A fighter of al-Mutassim Division was killed in clashes with the “Hamza Division” faction.

The body of a young man was found in by locals, covered with dust in an abandoned house belonging to a displaced family near Al-Taqwa mosque in Ras Al-Ain city in Al-Hasakah countryside. Sources suggested that vengeance and factional dispute are behind this murder.

On February 18, Russian forces and their Turkish counterpart conducted the first joint patrol in Al-Hasakeh countryside. The patrol set off from the last areas held by SDF and the Syrian regime after the village of Al-Assadiya in Abu Racine countryside. The patrol, which consists of three Russian vehicles and three other Turkish ones, roamed areas controlled by Ankara-backed factions in Ras al-Ain countryside (Sere Kaniye) to the city. No information was reported whether the patrol would enter Ras al-Ain.

It is worth noting that this patrol is the first of its kind since Turkey took control of the “Spring of Peace” areas in October 2019.

Security chaos: escalating internal clashes and ongoing explosions

“Peace Spring” areas experienced four explosions in February, 2021, three of which took place in the city of Ras al-Ain (Sere Kaniye) and one explosion in the countryside of Tel Tamer, which left eight people dead and 13 others injured, and the explosions were as follows:

On February 3, an IED exploded near the Post roundabout in Ras al-Ain, injuring one person, immediately followed by another explosion of an IED in the same area. 

On February 19, four members of the Turkish-backed al-Hamza Division were killed and four others were injured in a landmine explosion which targeted their bus, north of Al-Alban farm in Tel Tamer countryside, north of al-Hasakeh. 

On February 25, an explosion killed four people, including a woman and a child, and more than eight people were injured, some seriously, as an IED exploded in a van in a popular market in Ras al-Ain town in Al-Hasakeh countryside. 

On the other hand, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored five incidents of armed clashes between Turkish-backed factions, following disputes over power, sharing properties, stolen goods and personal reasons. A member of the Turkish-backed “Al-Mu’tasim Division” was killed and others were injured in clashes between a group of “Al-Mu’tasim Division” and another group of “Al-Hamzah Division” over revenue-sharing and civilian houses possession in Ras Al-Ain city.

According to SOHR sources, a commander of Al-Hamzah Division from Deir Ezzor province has seized nearly 20 houses in the city, while the dispute began when members of Al-Mu’tasim Division asked that commander to give them some of these houses.

On February 10, Syrian Observatory activists monitored fierce clashes with machineguns between the factions of “Malek Shah” and “Sultan Murad” in Tal Halaf town. During the clashes, the brother of a commander of “Sultan Murad” was killed, while five others, including civilians, were injured.

According to SOHR sources, forces of the military police have closed all entrances of the town, so that they can prevent the two factions from bringing military reinforcement from Ras Al-Ain city. Also, the village of Al-Arisha in the same countryside witnessed clashes between two groups belonging to the “Sultan Murad”, which resulted in injuries on both sides. Meanwhile, the reasons behind these clashes remained unknown.

The fourth incident took place in Ras al-Ain city, where clashes took place between al-Hamza Division and civilian police, while the latest incident took place in the town of Tal Abyad, north of Raqqa, where clashes took place between members of the Al-Jabha al-Shamiya faction, leaving three members injured, amid panic among civilians as a result of clashes in residential neighbourhoods.

Ongoing violations with Turkish consent

People in “Peace Spring” areas in Al-Hasakah and Al-Raqqah countryside are suffering from the Turkish-backed factions’ escalating influence and violations, at a time when Turkish forces seem indifferent to and satisfied with such violations. The Syrian Observatory documented over 31 arbitrary arrests in February carried out by factions operating in “Peace Spring” areas, mainly “Al-Hamzah Division”. These arrested were accused of “dealing with SDF”.

In February, the Syrian Observatory monitored a number of violations against civilians, some of which can be summarised as follows:

Members of the Turkish-backed “Al-Hamza Division” burned down four houses of displaced families in the village of Al-Qasimiyah in the Tel Tamer countryside, near the Turkish military post in the village.

Members of the Turkish-backed “Al-Hamza Division” burned down five civilian houses in Al-Qasimiyah village in west Tel Tamr countryside, after looting their contents. Al-Qasimiyah village is empty of population as the residents had fled from the village during the attack by Turkish forces and their proxy factions on the region. The village also hosts a large Turkish military base.
The Turkish-backed Sultan Murad faction seized private property and shops in Ras al-Ain, belonging to a civilian receiving treatment in the city of al-Hasakeh, under the pretext that the owner of the property is absent, while his sons in Ras al-Ain are supervising the use of the property. According to Syrian Observatory sources, Sultan Murad faction rented each shops for 100 Turkish liras per month.

In light of the ongoing violations, medical staff including doctors, nurses at the National Hospital in Ras al-Ain (Sri Kanih) in the Hasakeh countryside carried out a strike against repeated violations by Ankara-backed factions against them.

Furthermore, Turkish-backed factions continue excavating and tampering with Syrian archaeological sites in the areas of the “Peace Spring” and the rest of the Syrian provinces. In this context, SOHR sources said that Turkish forces and their proxy factions continued digging and excavation work in Sahlan archaeological hill and other sites in Meshrefah and Al-Hassoun villages in the eastern countryside of Tel Abyad in al-Raqqah countryside, Tel Aswad hill and other positions in Al-Doughaniyyah in the south Tel Abyad countryside, and Tal Akhdar in western Tel Abyad.

According to SOHR sources, Turkish forces have found treasures and antiquities in Sahlan hill, taking them to unknown destination.

Overall, this bleak picture remains in place with the widespread corruption and tyranny of the Turkish-backed factions without any deterrent preventing them from committing further humanitarian crimes against Syrian civilians in the “Peace Spring” areas.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights therefore renews its call to the international community not to abandon its responsibility and obligations and find a lasting solution to the tragedy of the region’s civilians that are plagued with systematic practices and violations committed by lawless factions, including thefts, murders, looting, arrests and kidnappings.

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