Turkish airstrikes responsible for civilian deaths in Syria: HRW

Turkish airstrikes responsible for civilian deaths in Syria: HRW
2 min read
15 September, 2016
Turkish airstrikes targeting Kurdish fighters in Syria killed 24 civilians in late August, HRW said on Thursday.
The attack came as part of Turkey's air and ground campaign in Syria [Anadolu]
Turkey killed 24 civilians, including six children, in airstrikes on northern Syria in late August, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

Ankara failed to properly distinguish between armed targets and residents, the New York-based group said.

But Kurdish forces had positioned themselves among civilians, HRW added, saying militants were not absolved of blame.

"Available information suggests that both sides could have done more to minimise civilian loss of life, as required by the laws of war," HRW said in a statement.

A group of between 10 and 15 fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces deployed among the civilians were also killed, it added.

"The deaths of 24 civilians could have been avoided if the SDF fighters hadn't positioned themselves among buildings filled with civilians, and Turkish forces had made a better effort to determine whether civilians were there," said Ole Solvang, deputy emergencies director at HRW.

Activists had said shortly after the airstrikes on August 28, in the early stages of Turkey's campaign in Syria, that the bombing had killed civilians. But Turkish state media said only that 25 "terrorists" were killed.

[Click to enlarge]

Residents near the village of Suraysat, about 12 kilometres [7 miles] south of Jarabalus, told HRW that Turkish aircraft struck an armed group "who had just disembarked from military vehicles among residential buildings in which about four dozen civilians had sought shelter from nearby fighting."

Turkey has insisted it is making every effort to avoid civilian casualties in Syria and issued a statement shortly after the air raid saying claims that civilians were hit "do not reflect reality".

The SDF, meanwhile, should not have positioned their forces in the residential compound "without having first relocated the civilians to another area", said the US rights group.

It remains unclear, however, that "the Turkish military took adequate steps to determine the extent to which civilians might be at risk in the attack", the statement added.

"It's unlawful to put civilians at unnecessary risk, and even an attack on a military target can be unlawful if the likely harm to civilians isn't taken into account," Solvang said.

The attack came on the fifth day of Turkey's air and ground campaign in Syria which has targeted both Islamic State group and YPG fighters in the area.