Turkey escalates in NE Syria’s ceasefire agreement area

QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – The town of Tel Tamr in north of Hasakah, northeast Syria, has been under constant attack by Turkish military and its affiliated armed Syrian opposition factions for more than two years despite a ceasefire agreement signed among the external forces to cease Turkish hostilities.  

Turkish offensive with its armed factions against the town started after the incursion into the region in October 2019, following battles with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the sudden withdrawal of the US troops from the area prompting Russian and Syrian government forces to position in Tel Tamr.

Ceasefire agreement

On July 29, 2019, a US delegation headed by the then Washington’s Special Representative for Syria Engagement, James Jeffrey, ended talks regarding the establishment of a “safe zone” in northeast Syria with Turkish officials at the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Ankara.

The talks were dominated by “some difference of views between Ankara and Washington,” but the Americans decided “not to focus on them mush,” Jeffery said at the time.

At a time when the talks between American and Turkish military delegations were being held, Turkish officials issued statements heralding a military operation against the areas of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).  

According to the agreement signed at the time, the SDF withdrew its heavy weapons from the border regions and handed them over to local military councils under the supervision of the US-led Global Coalition.

“Security Mechanism”  

According to the “Security Mechanism” agreed among the US, Turkey and the SDF which was accepted by the SDF, the geographical area between Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ain) and Tel Abyad was divided into 6 sectors with a length of 88 km and a depth ranging between 5 and 14 km; to conduct direct American-Turkish patrols.

The “Security Mechanism” also indicated that this 14 km depth inside Syrian territories includes uninhabited areas. Besides, the area would be run by local military councils.

US withdrawal and Turkish incursion 

However, the ceasefire agreement was breached and the safe zone was not implemented on the ground as Turkey decided to “address its concerns” at its southern borders and started a military offensive on October 9, 2019.

Moreover, despite pledges of the American officials, the Turkish incursion was followed a phone call between Turkish and US then presidents on October 6, 2019 coincided with the announcement of the decision to withdraw the US forces from the border areas in northeast Syria.  

The Turkish offensive caused hundreds of civilian casualties and displaced about 300,000 people from the two cities of Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ain) and Tel Abyad and their countryside. 

Violations despite withdrawal

Following the Turkish incursion in October 2019, Turkey signed two ceasefire agreements, one with Russia and the other with the US stipulating ceasing all hostilities and the withdrawal of the SDF 32 km away from the Turkish border.

The SDF did withdrew from the border areas according to the agreement, but Turkey continues targeting the area. 

Tel Tamr under frequent shelling 

Since then, in addition to areas like Ain Issa in Raqqa northern countryside, the town of Tel Tamr has been subjected to frequent bombardment by the Turkish military and its affiliated armed factions, in a blatant violation of the aforementioned ceasefire agreement.

Tel Tamr, which has a population of about 25,000 and is 30 km away from the Syrian-Turkish border, is of strategic importance as it is a junction on the M4 Highway linking the Jazira region in northeast Syria to Aleppo governorate in northwest.  

In addition to the military formation within the SDF and the Syrian government-backed pointes, there are Turkish, Russian and American forces in the vicinity of the town. 

Inside Tel Tamr, local Christian forces are operating within the SDF in order to protect the area from the risk of any potential offensives by Turkish-backed armed factions. 

It is worth mentioning, the countryside of Tel Tamr includes about 33 Assyrian villages, 5 of which were almost fully emptied due to ISIS attacks and their location on the frontlines with the Turkish forces, according to the residents. 

Syriac Military Council and Assyrian Khabour Guards Forces within the SDF are tasked with protecting Assyrian villages near Tel Tamr from frequent attacks and shelling by Turkish forces and their affiliated armed factions.

Parts of the northern and western countryside of the town and the entire southern countryside are protected by the Syriac Military Council and the Assyrian Khabour Guards Forces, while the Turkish-backed armed Syrian opposition factions control the northern countryside up to the city of Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ain) on the northern border of Syria.

Reporting by Jwan Shkaki