SWITZERLAND, OCTOBER 08- Kurdish civilians in northeastern Syria are planning to stage open-ended sit-ins in areas near the border with Turkey in response to a looming Turkish military operation, according to local activists and journalists.
Sitting in “huge tents”, people of all ages have begun gathering in the towns of Ras al-Ain, Tal Abyad and Kobane.
“[They] want to stand as human shields to prevent a Turkish advance,” said Arin Sheikhmous, an activist based in Qamishli, where hundreds also gathered outside a United Nations office to call for international action.
The gatherings on Monday came a day after the United States announced its decision to withdraw troops from the northeastern region.
Washington’s move cleared the way for Ankara to launch its long-threatened offensive and left the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) across the border at risk of being attacked by Turkey, which considers them as “terrorists”.
Ankara is yet to reveal the exact scope of its planned incursion, but has long said it wants to create a so-called “safe zone” into neighbouring Syria’s northeast region. It has previously suggested it would carry out operations east of the Euphrates River.
The SDF, which spearheaded the US-led campaign against ISIL, described Washington’s withdrawal announcement as a “stab in the back” but promised to “defend our land at all costs”.
After President Trump announced the withdrawal of US forces from northern Syria, CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh calls it a betrayal of America’s Kurdish allies in the region and a gift to Iran, Russia, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Not only that, it comes as ISIS is starting to regroup, and Trump’s move “mocks the allegiances made with those who suffered most in defeating ISIS”—without a plan to keep the group in check.
Late last month, the congressionally mandated Syria Study Group concluded a report warning against US withdrawal. ISIS has not been defeated in Syria, the authors wrote, and Assad has not won the war; the former is reconstituting itself as an insurgency, while Assad is locked in a deadly stalemate. Although the report argued things will get worse if the US pulls out, Steven A. Cook wrote at Foreign Policy that such warnings ring hollow in Washington, reflecting a broad “transition underway in US foreign policy, especially in the Middle East.”
Founded in 2015, the SDF says it wants to create an autonomous federation in northern Syria along the lines of the Rojava region. The umbrella group’s makeup largely consists of Kurdish YPG fighters and smaller groupings of Arab, Turkmen and Armenian forces. It now controls a vast area, stretching 480km (300 miles) from east of the Euphrates to the border with Iraq – about a quarter of Syria.
According to Sheikhmous, all segments of society in the region including Kurds, Arabs and Syriacs – an ancient Christian population – oppose a possible Turkish incursion.
“We’re all scared because if Turkey sets foot in the area, then there will be massacres,” the 31-year-old said.
There are nearly five million people in the northeast region, including hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Syrians who fled government-led offensives in other parts of the war-torn country, according to local officials.
“It’s the only area that has been spared from an all-out destructive offensive in the country’s civil war,” Sheikhmous said. “And we want to keep it this way.”