Two Turkish-backed groups involved in wide-scale looting in northern Syria: report
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Syrian human rights organizations Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ), PÊL, and Hevdestî accused the Sultan Murad Division and the Mu'tasim Division of perpetrating large-scale looting and confiscation of civilian properties in Serekaniye (Ras al-Ain) in northern Syria in a report released on Wednesday.
In October 2019, the Turkish army and their affiliated Syrian rebel groups, collectively known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and more recently renamed the Syrian National Army (SNA), launched a military operation that pushed the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from the border towns of Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad.
That operation, codenamed Peace Spring by the Turkish military, led to the deaths of at least 500 civilians and the displacement of approximately 300,000 people.
Since then, several reports have documented human rights abuses in these towns, especially against Kurdish civilians.
According to the report, SNA-affiliated factions carried out large-scale pillaging of private and public properties in the areas they captured, including Serekaniye city.
"The factions looted the contents of over 220 stores, warehouses, and industrial facilities in the Ras al-Ayn Industrial Zone, robbing the original owners of the targeted facilities of possessions worth millions of dollars," the report said.
"The SNA factions responsible returned only a small collection of the items they looted from the industrial zone to owners, smelting or selling most of the pillaged contents to local Syrian or Turkish merchants."
The organizations obtained numerous testimonies confirming that the Sultan Murad Division, led by commander Fahim Issa, was the chief perpetrator of the assault on the industrial zone. There, its division members sometimes pillaged, looted, and confiscated all the contents of targeted facilities.
Another set of collected testimonies proved that the Mu'tasim Division, led by commander Mu'tasim Abbas, perpetrated a smaller number of thefts from the industrial zone.
"Notably, even though the Turkish army maintains an extensive presence in the targeted area, they enforced no measures to prevent the looting and pillage operations," the report said.
It also disclosed that the looted goods were sold in Turkey with the consent of the governor of the Turkish city of Şanlıurfa, or sold to the Syrian government.
PÊL, Hevdestî Association, and STJ called on the United States to expand the scope of the sanctions they imposed in July on the Ahrar al-Sharqiya faction to include the Sultan Murad Division and the Mu'tasim Division, their commanders, and the Ras al-Ayn Local Council, for perpetrating large-scale looting and confiscation of civilian properties.
A report issued in September by the UN's Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria also stated that the Turkish-supported SNA "continued, as previously documented, to loot and appropriate civilian property along with detaining individuals, including agricultural land belonging to members of the Yazidi (Ezidi) minority group."