UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY) — Civilians should be protected from any Turkish military operation in northeastern Syria, where the United Nations hopes to prevent major waves of displacement or killings such as those in Srebrenica, Bosnia, a senior UN official said on Monday.
The United States has begun withdrawing troops from northeastern Syria, in a major shift paving the way for a Turkish military operation against Kurdish-led forces, and Turkey will hand over responsibility for thousands of ISIS prisoners.
The United Nations is currently providing aid to 700,000 people in the northeastern region of Syria, which has a population of 1.7 million.
The UN’s regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syrian crisis, Panos Momsis, told reporters in Geneva that the United Nations had prepared contingency plans to provide food and medical assistance to people who might flee to the south.
“Any (military) operation currently under way must take into account ensuring that there is no further displacement,” he said. “We hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”
Turkey has long advocated the establishment of a “safe zone” on the 32-kilometer border under Ankara’s control, and the expulsion of the Syrian Kurdish YPG, the dominant force in the SDF coalition, which Ankara considers a terrorist organization and a threat to its national security.
Asked about the Turkish attack on Kurdish-led forces and the idea of a safe zone, he said: “I can’t really talk about what kind of intervention, how it will be or how big it is.
“For us at the United Nations, we have a bitter history with the concept of a safe zone and we do not promote or promote it. We do not believe it has worked with the United Nations taking into account Srebrenica and what happened in the past.”
He was referring to the 1995 killing of 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces in a United Nations “safe area” where Dutch peacekeepers were unable to protect civilians.
“We understand that there will be some kind of security zone that will be specifically targeted by a military operation or an area that will see some clearance,” Moumessis said.
“We therefore hope that there will be full cooperation from all to ensure that this happens as smoothly as possible, without leading to displacement, ensuring the protection of civilians and respect for fundamental humanitarian principles on the ground.”
The United Nations was in contact with all parties to clarify clinics, schools, water sources, markets and residential areas and to urge them to “stay away from civilians”.
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