Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish President, has been heavily criticised this week for not abiding by the terms of the latest United Nations Security Council ceasefire resolution.
The resolution, which came into effect on Saturday, February 24, detailed that the UN “demands that all parties cease hostilities without delay… for at least 30 consecutive days throughout Syria”. The truce, however, excluded military operations against designated terrorist groups, including Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.
The United States has since condemned Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch, aimed at driving the Kurdish YPG militia out of Afrin.
On February 27, when asked whether Turkey is violating the UN ceasefire, Heather Nauert, a US Department of State spokesperson, replied “the resolution was clear here in naming exactly which groups are… exempt from the ceasefire”. The comments implied that the YPG is not exempt from the ceasefire, and that Turkey’s hostility towards them is violating the UN resolution.
In response, at a parliamentary meeting on March 6, Erdogan criticised the UN-mandated ceasefire, accusing it of double standards by stating which ‘terrorist’ groups can be fought and which cannot be.
He went on to call the resolution meaningless, stressing that it was designed to provide humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians in Eastern Ghouta, and had nothing to do with Turkey’s operation in Afrin.
Erdogan has a point.
This is not to say that Turkey should be given a free hand in Afrin. Rather, Turkey must abide by the ceasefire, and those responsible for unlawful civilian deaths in Afrin must be held accountable.
However, it is to say that designating which ‘terrorist’ groups can be fought, and which cannot be, has done nothing to help the civilians under siege in Eastern Ghouta.
The UN had voted unanimously for the month-long ceasefire to put an end to the bombing campaign began on February 18 by Russian-backed pro-Assad forces that has left well over 500 dead civilians in Eastern Ghouta. The idea was that the truce would allow civilians to leave the sieged area, while those unable to leave would receive humanitarian aid.
But, by excluding designated ‘terrorist’ groups from the ceasefire, the UN has made this an almost impossible task. Russia continues to stress that Jabhat Fateh al-Sham has a strong presence in Eastern Ghouta, and is using that as a pretext to allow pro-Assad forces to continue bombing the Damascus suburb. Consequently, on March 6, pro-Assad forces resumed their offensive in Eastern Ghouta, killing 70 civilians; including more than 30 who suffocated in a chlorine attack.
In truth, it has been this exemption of designated groups from the ceasefire that has led to the resolution’s unsuccessful attempt to deliver aid to civilians trapped in Eastern Ghouta. As long as groups are exempt, there can be no ceasefire.
Though not an easy task, an all-inclusive ceasefire must be reached soon. Without that, it is unlikely that a humanitarian passage can be opened in Eastern Ghouta or anywhere else in Syria. Worse still, innocent civilians will continue to lose their lives, trapped between warring factions.