Syrian Arab Fighters Backed by Turkey Kill Two Kurdish Prisoners  10/12/2019 22:15:01   Ben Hubbard, Karam Shoumali, Carlotta Gall and Patrick Kingsley

The killings, one of them caught on video, raised the specter of wider sectarian warfare as fighting in Syria escalates.

ImageTurkish soldiers and Turkish-backed Syrian fighters outside the border town of Ras al-Ain Saturday during their assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria.
Turkish soldiers and Turkish-backed Syrian fighters outside the border town of Ras al-Ain Saturday during their assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria.CreditCreditNazeer Al-Khatib/Agence France-Presse  Getty Images

Turkish-backed Syrian Arab fighters killed at least two Kurdish prisoners on Saturday, one of them lying on the ground with his hands bound behind his back, in a powerful illustration of the forces unleashed by President Trumps decision to pull back American troops shielding former Kurdish allies in northern Syria.

A video that captured one of the killings shows two of the Turkish-backed groups fighters firing bullets at close range into the man with his hands tied while their colleagues shout God is great! The second prisoner who was killed appears in the video alive and wearing a military uniform, but he is missing from the groups later social media post about its captives.

The guy in the military outfit was neutralized, said Al-Harith Rabah, a media activist with the Arab fighters who was at the scene.

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A video shows a Turkish-backed rebel group executing Kurdish prisoners Saturday in northeastern Syria.CreditCreditThe New York Times

The killing of two Kurdish captives by Arab fighters  a possible war crime  is an indication of the ethnically tinged hatreds flaring in the wake of President Trumps pullback of American forces in the area. The move cleared the way for a Turkish military incursion into a northern Syria border area aimed at rooting out the Kurdish-led militia that had been the key American-allied ground force helping to wrest territory from the Islamic State.

On Saturday, Turkey and its allied Syrian fighters established a foothold in a strategic Syrian border town, Ras al-Ain, and were gathering to launch an offensive against another, Tel Abyad, according to the Turkish Defense Ministry and a spokesman for the Turkish-backed fighters.

The new hostilities have displaced at least 100,000 people and ignited fears that tens of thousands of ISIS fighters and their relatives held by the Kurds could escape their camps and prisons.

The two captives were killed early Saturday after the militant group Ahrar al-Sharqiyeh, which had entered Syria from Turkey, took control of a main road through the territory and began stopping passing cars, according to Mr. Rabah, the media activist.

When military vehicles belonging to the Kurdish-led militia passed, the militants stopped them, at times getting into clashes, he said.

Also killed on a main road through the territory was Hervin Khalaf, the head of a Kurdish political party. Kurdish officials accused Turkish-allied Arab fighters of attacking her car, a charge a spokesman for the Arab fighters denied.

Mr. Rabah said his group killed nine Kurdish fighters, he said, without specifying whether the two prisoners were among them.

When asked about the video showing the Turkish-allied fighters shooting the bound prisoner, Mr. Rabah grew nervous and said he had been trying to stop them from shooting.

Everything happened so fast, he said

In the video, the fighters call the captives pigs and shout God is great! as two of them shoot the bound captive.

Mr. Rabah said that the second prisoners identification card linked him to a Kurdish security force, and that the Turkish-backed group had killed him after he tried to flee.

You know in the law of war, it is O.K. to kill anyone who is a threat, he said.

But a video published by the militant group on Twitter shows that same prisoner sitting passively on the side of the road, dabbing blood from his nose as if he has just been hit.

The video with the fighters shooting the bound prisoner shows three other prisoners, including the one in the military uniform. But in a later post on the groups Twitter feed announcing its captives, there are only two in the photo. The prisoner in the uniform is not among them.

Turkeys incursion into northern Syria comes more than eight years into a civil war that has shattered the country and pulled in Russia, Iran, Turkey and the United States, all of which have forces on the ground backing their local Syrian allies.

The United States has long backed a Kurdish-led militia in the countrys northeast called the Syrian Democratic Forces, or S.D.F., which played a key role in the battle against the jihadists of the Islamic State and took over much of the territory it once controlled.

But the rise of Kurdish autonomy across its southern border angered Turkey, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had threatened to send Turkish forces into Syria to root out Kurdish militants long before Mr. Trump acquiesced to the idea on Sunday.

To prepare for the incursion, Turkey supported groups of predominantly Arab fighters in Syria who also oppose the S.D.F. In videos posted as the incursion began, the fighters sometimes referred to Kurdish forces as pigs and used religious battle language to justify fighting them.

Previously, the roughly 1,000 United States troops posted in northeastern Syria formed a buffer between the Arab militants and Kurdish fighters, running daily patrols to keep them apart.

But that buffer collapsed with the Turkish incursion because Turkey began bringing Syrian Arab fighters across its border directly into the Kurdish-controlled zone. It was one such group that carried out the killings on Saturday.

Turkeys entrance into Ras al-Ain on Monday marked the first significant strategic breakthrough of its incursion. The town sits on the border with Turkey on a road connecting the eastern and western wings of Kurdish-held territory.

Capturing the rest of the town would allow Turkish forces to control a main link between the border towns, making it harder for Kurdish forces to move troops and supplies.

Footage broadcast on Turkish television showed Syrian Arab fighters in the streets of the seemingly abandoned town. But Kurdish-led forces said they were still present in another part of Ras al-Ain.

Turkish troops and their Arab allies were pushing to take a second strategic border town, Tel Abyad, 75 miles to the west, and an advance group briefly reached a second major supply route, roughly 20 miles inside Syria. The Turkish government says its incursions have so far been small, with soldiers holding territory only a few miles inside Syria. Its aerial bombardment has affected a much larger area.

The invasion has prompted a threat of crippling United States sanctions and a wave of international criticism  both Germany and France said on Saturday that they would block future exports of weapons to Turkey that could be used in Syria.

Turkey’s proposed

buffer zone

Turkish army AND

syrian opposition

Turkey’s proposed

buffer zone

Turkish army

AND syrian


Turkey’s proposed

buffer zone

Turkish army AND

syrian opposition

Sources: Times reporting; Control areas via Conflict Monitor by IHS Markit | By Sarah Almukhtar, Allison McCann and Anjali Singhvi

Turkey says it wants to create a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border to protect itself from the Kurdish-led militia. The militia has close links to a guerrilla movement that has been fighting a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

But that has upended efforts by the United States and the Kurdish-led militia to prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Since the incursion began on Wednesday, Kurdish leaders have pulled their fighters away from counterterrorism operations to fight the Turks, leaving the territory vulnerable to ISIS sleeper cells.

We are now fighting on two fronts  one front against the Turkish invasion and a front against the Islamic State, a Kurdish military official, Redur Xelil, told reporters on Saturday.

The extremist group claimed responsibility for a car bomb in Qamishli, a large border city, on Friday. Turkish airstrikes near a prison in Qamishli on Friday allowed five ISIS prisoners to escape. A second car bomb exploded Saturday in the city of Al Hasakah outside a prison holding ISIS militants.

On Friday night, the Pentagon announced that a group of American troops had narrowly avoided being hit by Turkish artillery fire in Kobani, a border town, despite providing their coordinates to Turkey.

United States military officials said privately that they were convinced Turkish forces had deliberately targeted the area to encourage the American military to leave.

The Turkish Defense Ministry acknowledged that shells had fallen near American forces, but said its troops had been aiming at Kurdish fighters in the area.

Syrian fighters backed by Turkey gathered on the outskirts of Tel Abyad, the next big objective for Turkey, said Sohaib Jaber, a spokesman for the group.

The Syrian fighters encountered fierce resistance from the Kurdish militia on the eastern edge of Tel Abyad on Saturday and pulled back to allow Turkish snipers to go in, he said. As several hundred fresh Syrian fighters rode in a convoy of buses through the town of Akcakale after dark to join the battle, Mr. Jaber said they would make a new push Saturday night.

Syrian refugees from Tel Abyad watched the fighting from a hilltop across the border on Saturday afternoon.

We are in very good shape, one of them, Abdullah al-Ibrahim, 33, said. A former Arab fighter, he said he was a refugee from Tel Abyad and had not seen his house in five years.

According to our plans, in one week we will take the whole area that we need, he said.

Today is the best day of my life, his friend, Hamad al Idham, said.

Some residents of Turkey have fled the border to escape mortar fire from Syria that has killed at least 17 people.

More than 50 Kurdish and 40 rebel fighters have been killed in fighting inside Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitor based in Britain.

Ben Hubbard reported from Dohuk, Iraq; Karam Shoumali from Berlin; Carlotta Gall from Akcakale, Turkey; and Patrick Kingsley from Istanbul. Reporting was contributed by Eric Schmitt from Washington; Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon; and Karam Shoumali from Berlin.

Ben Hubbard is the Beirut bureau chief who has spent more than a decade in the Arab world, including Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Yemen. @NYTBen " Facebook

Carlotta Gall is the Istanbul bureau chief, covering Turkey. She previously covered the aftershocks of the Arab Spring from Tunisia, reported from the Balkans during the war in Kosovo and Serbia, and covered Afghanistan and Pakistan. @carlottagall " Facebook

Patrick Kingsley is an international correspondent, based in Berlin. He previously covered migration and the Middle East for The Guardian. @PatrickKingsley

A version of this article appears in print on , Section A, Page 10 of the New York edition with the headline: Turkish-Led Troops Invade Strategic Syrian Town on Fourth Day of Incursion. Order Reprints | Todays Paper | Subscribe
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