Turkish-backed proxies leading a ground offensive on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria have summarily executed nine civilians including a female politician, a human rights monitor has claimed, according to The Guardian.
The civilians were shot dead on a highway after being taken from their cars by Turkish-backed militias who had crossed the border as the push into Syria deepened. The killings were captured on camera phones, and the gruesome scenes have raised the specter of ethnic bloodletting emerging five days into the Turkish offensive. Ankara’s proxies are Syrian Arabs from elsewhere in the country, and their foes are Kurds with long ties to the territory.
“The nine civilians were executed at different moments south of the town of Tel Abyad,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed.
A Kurdish political leader, Hevrin Khalaf, and her driver were among those killed on Saturday, according to Kurdish forces. Handheld videos captured by the assassins widely distributed on the Internet also show several people being repeatedly shot by the side of a road. Their killers are heard to shout insults as they fire their military weapons at them. US officials have suggested the footage is authentic.
Khalaf, 35, was “taken out of her car during a Turkish-backed attack and executed by Turkish-backed mercenary factions,” the political arm of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said in a statement. “This is a clear evidence that the Turkish state is continuing its criminal policy towards unarmed civilians.”
Khalaf was the secretary-general of the Future Syria party. Mutlu Civiroglu, a specialist in Kurdish politics, described her death as a “great loss.”
“She had a talent for diplomacy, she used to always take part in meetings with the Americans, the French, the foreign delegations,” he said.
Turkey and its proxies began the offensive on Wednesday to push back the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the backbone of the SDF, from its border.
The proxies are Syrian former rebels who had fought against the regime of the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, before being co-opted early last year to fight Kurdish groups in the northwestern town of Afrin. Some of the rebel factions among the Turkish alliance had previously been supported by the US and Qatar in the early years of the Syrian war.
But as the war morphed into a series of intertwined conflicts and the Syrian opposition steadily disintegrated, rebel alliances shifted. The Arabs now leading the fighting have received widespread training and support from Turkey.
The first video of the killings, posted on the Twitter account of the Ahrar al-Sharqiya rebel group, shows two people in civilian clothes kneeling on the ground as a fighter next to them announces they have been captured by the faction.
In the second, an unidentified fighter opens fire at a person on the ground wearing civilian attire.
The observatory confirmed the authenticity of the videos, but Agence France-Presse could not independently verify them.