Turkish belligerence adds to suffering in Syria

Since its outset, different regional powers have involved themselves in the Syrian war, causing untold suffering

A picture taken on February 3, 2018, in the town of Afrin shows the brother (C) of the late 23-year-old YPJ fighter Barin Kobani, chanting slogans during a mourning ceremony in her honor, after the YPJ and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights accused Turkish-backed Syrian rebels of filming her mutilated dead body. / AFP PHOTO / Delil souleiman
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Today, Turkey's latest bout of disproportionate aggression in Syria – a brutal offensive into the Kurdish-held Syrian city of Afrin – enters its third week. Yesterday the Turkish military suffered its deadliest day, as seven soldiers died at the hands of the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG. The response from an increasingly belligerent Ankara was strident. As Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim vowed militants would "pay for this twice as much", bombs rained down near Afrin. Although the YPG previously received support from the United States, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sees the militia as an arm of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has designs on Kurdish autonomy in southern Turkey. As such, Ankara's claim that it is simply driving out militants seems dubious at best. A Syrian Kurdish official claimed that 450 civilians had been killed or wounded in the bruising campaign. It has also claimed the lives of 14 Turkish soldiers and, according to the Ankara, 900 Kurdish fighters. After yesterday's fatalities, the hard-nosed Mr Erdogan is bound to double down.

There is never any excuse for the targeting of civilians. These accusations expose Turkey's flouting of international law and call into question its status as a Nato member. The YPG fought valiantly in Syria, liberating towns from the grip of ISIL, and gaining the backing of the United States in the process. Left largely alone by Russia, Syria and Turkey, the YPG carved out a Kurdish zone in northern Syria. With ISIL routed, the Turks took the opportunity to settle old scores and in doing so tore open a new front. Their actions could further derail US-Turkey relations, following the conviction last month of a Turkish banker for his part in a conspiracy to help Iran evade sanctions. The case implicated powerful individuals in Turkish politics, causing Mr Erdogan to seek its dismissal. The Turkish President has threatened to shift the offensive from Afrin to Manbij, where US troops are deployed. The consequences of such a decision would be disastrous.

The Syrian civil war, soon entering its eighth year, gives new meaning to the phrase "violence begets violence". The response of the international community to Turkey's belligerence has been characteristically muted, with western powers quietly urging restraint. Kurds protested in their thousands in Strasbourg on Saturday. On the same day, 2,000 people marched in Paris. Since its outset, different regional powers have involved themselves in the conflict. With heavy hands, most have worsened the turmoil for their own gain. As The National reported, for instance, North Korea has been aiding Syria's brutal chemical weapons programme. Turkey and North Korea are just two of the vultures circling the Syrian state and feeding off its carcass. And with new fronts opening up in Afrin and elsewhere, it is the people of Syria who continue to suffer the most.