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Turkish court sentenced Friday 3 persons to 125 years each for the death of Syrian Aylan Kurdi

CBS News: Three people believed to be organizers of a human trafficking ring were sentenced Friday in a Turkish court to 125 years each in prison for the death of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, Turkish state media reported. The lifeless body of three-year-old Aylan lying on a beach in Turkey was captured in a photograph that became a symbol of the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis.

The Bodrum High Criminal Court in Mugla sentenced the defendants for the crime of “killing with eventual intent.”  

The traffickers, fugitives from justice, had been captured by Turkish security forces this week in the southern province of Adana, according to state news agency Andalou.  

A number of Syrian and Turkish defendants were found responsible for the accident and were sentenced to prison time. The three defendants sentenced had fled trial, Andalou reported. 

Aylan was one of 14 Syrian refugees, including eight children, who took a boat that sank in the Aegean Sea while en route to Greek islands. Aylan’s brother Galip, 5, and mother Rihan, 35, also died. His father, Abdullah, survived. 

“The waves were so high, and the captain panicked and jumped into the sea,” Abdullah said. “I took my wife and children in my arms, but they were all dead.”

The family was fleeing the Syrian town of Kobani, which was decimated when ISIS tried to seize it, leaving nearly everyone there homeless.  

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At least 21 civilians were killed in the airstrikes in northern Syria

Syrian government air strikes on the rebel-held area of Idlib killed at least 11 people and wounded dozens on Monday after hitting two outdoor markets, Syrian civil defense forces said. Syria’s northwestern corner, including the Idlib region, is the last major chunk of territory still in rebel hands after more than eight years of war. The air strikes hit a fruit and vegetable market in Maaret al-Numan, south of Idlib, and a second produce market in Saraqib to the east, according to the White Helmets, a civil defense and rescue group operating in rebel areas of Syria.

Photos and videos posted by the group on Twitter showed victims being carried away from demolished produce stands and charred vehicles.

Syrian President Bashar Assad met an envoy to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday to discuss the situation in Idlib and attacks launched by militant groups based there, according to a tweet from Syria’s presidency. There was no mention of the air strikes on Syrian state media.

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The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, put the number of those killed in the attack at 15. It said separately that Russian air strikes had targeted a prison in Idlib, causing casualties and prisoners to flee. It did not provide specific figures.
Russia, which has supported Assad against rebels and militants in his country’s civil war, and Turkey, long a backer of rebels, co-sponsored a “de-escalation” of conflict agreement for the area earlier this year that has since faltered.

The region is home to hundreds of thousands of people who fled other parts of Syria as government forces advanced through the country since Moscow joined the war on the side of Assad in 2015, tipping the conflict in his favor.

A separate airstrike by Turkey killed at least 10 civilians in the town of Tal Rifaat, according to Kurdish-led forces in the area, The Washington Post reported Monday. Eight of those killed were children, The Post reported, citing Syrian Democratic Forces spokesman Mervan Qamishlo, who added that the strikes hit a market just yards away from a school and a Red Crescent facility.

Reporting for Reuters by Khalil Ashawi

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Syrian Kurds accuse Turkey of violating ceasefire

Kurdish-led forces in north-east Syria have accused Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebels of violating a ceasefire deal that ended a two-week offensive. The head of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, Mazloum Abdi, said there had been attacks on the frontline near the town of Ras al-Ain.

He urged the truce’s guarantors – the US and Russia – to “rein in the Turks”.

Meanwhile, the Russian foreign ministry said Kurdish fighters in the SDF were pulling back from the Turkish border. Under a deal between Russia and Turkey, they must withdraw at least 30km (20 miles) by Tuesday and hand over control to the Russian and Syrian militaries. In a speech, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that if Kurdish fighters failed to do so, his country would use its right to “crush them”.

How did we get here?

Two weeks ago, Turkey launched a cross-border operation to set up a “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the border clear of members of a Kurdish militia that dominates the SDF called the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

The Turkish government views the YPG as a terrorist organisation. It says it is an extension of a Kurdish rebel group that has been fighting in Turkey for decades.

The Turkish assault began days after US troops, who had relied on the SDF to defeat the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) in Syria, pulled back from the border.

The SDF complained that it had been “stabbed in the back” by the US and after several days of fighting the alliance turned to the Syrian government and its ally, Russia, for help. They agreed to deploy Syrian soldiers and Russian military police to stop the Turkish advance.

Despite his support for the Syrian opposition, Mr Erdogan reached a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi that was meant to end the offensive.

They agreed that Turkey could keep its forces in a 120km-long, 30km-deep strip of territory between Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad, and that Russian and Syrian troops would ensure the withdrawal of YPG fighters from the rest of the border area.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said 120 Syrian civilians were killed during the offensive, along with 275 SDF fighters, 196 Turkish-backed Syrian rebels, 10 Turkish soldiers, and five Syrian soldiers. Twenty civilians also died in YPG attacks on Turkey, according to Turkish officials.

What’s the latest on the ground?

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Tuesday that the Turkish army had attacked three villages south of Ras al-Ain – Assadiya, Mishrafa and Manajer – “with a large number of mercenaries and all kinds of heavy weapons despite the truce”. “SDF will exercise its right to legitimate self defense and we are not responsible for the violation of the agreement,” he tweeted.

There was no immediate comment from Turkey. But its state-run Anadolu news agency said two Syrian rebel fighters had been injured in a YPG bomb attack in the Tal Abyad area. Russian media reported that 276 additional military police officers and heavy equipment will be sent to Syria in the next week to patrol the border area.

“We note with satisfaction that the agreements reached in Sochi are being implemented,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stressed that any US troops still based in Syria were there illegally and should withdraw immediately.

What is the US saying?

Defence Secretary Mark Esper told a think tank in Brussels on Thursday that Turkey had put the US “in a very terrible situation” by launching the offensive, adding: “I think the incursion was unwarranted.”

He also warned that its NATO ally was “heading in the wrong direction”. “We see them spinning closer to Russia’s orbit than in the Western orbit, and I think that is unfortunate.”

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump said he would lift the sanctions he imposed in response to the Turkish offensive and said his administration’s efforts to broker a ceasefire had “saved tens of thousands of Kurds”. He also defended the US withdrawal from Syria, despite the fact that the move has cemented Russia’s role as the pivotal player in Syria.

“Turkey, Syria, and all forms of the Kurds, have been fighting for centuries. We have done them a great service, and we’ve done a great job for all of them. And now we’re getting out.”

“Let someone else fight over this long blood-stained sand,” he added.

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Syrian Conflict Traps Refugees in an Exodus to Nowhere

Killi village in the northwestern corner of Syria became a refuge six months ago as thousands of families fled shelling by the government of President Bashar al-Assad and airstrikes by one of its main allies, Russia.

Now, as Turkey seeks Moscow’s help to seize a strip of northeast Syria, the village has also become another square on the Middle East geopolitical chessboard.

Abdelkarim Mustafa, 41 years old, fled to the Killi area with his wife and their seven children in the spring, escaping the bombs of Russian fighter jets and seeking treatment after losing a leg in an airstrike.

For a short time this summer, the family took shelter in one of the many refugee camps dotting the desolate agricultural region. But with humanitarian organizations struggling to cope with the 500,000 Syrian refugees who have arrived in the area in the past six months, they were told to leave.

Mr. Mustafa’s hopes of crossing the border 10 miles away into Turkey were dashed when the Erdogan government tightened it this summer. Now, the family lives nearby on a rocky hilltop in the village of Killi, crammed into a tent too flimsy to keep out rain. There are no latrines and the ground is infested with snakes and scorpions.

“I can’t return to my home. I can’t go to Turkey,” said Mr. Mustafa, sitting next to his prosthetic limb. “My biggest dream has been reduced to having a tent on this wind-blown hill.”

The Mustafa family is among hundreds of thousands of Syrians caught in an exodus to nowhere.

They are stuck in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, a territory the size of Delaware that is the last stronghold of rebels resisting the Assad regime. The deadly vise could become the worst humanitarian catastrophe of an eight-year-old Syrian conflict, which has claimed 500,000 lives.

South of the village, the government has launched a military offensive to reclaim the province, sending scores of families with children, many wounded, on the road.

To the north, safety in Turkey lies tantalizingly close. But the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, feeling the strain of hosting four million Syrian refugees, has walled up most of its 500-mile border with Syria and refuses to take the more than three million civilians trapped in Idlib.

All summer, Mr. Erdogan sounded the alarm over the humanitarian mayhem in Idlib, and Russia agreed to suspend airstrikes in late August.

But after launching its own military offensive in northeastern Syria on Oct. 9, forcing more than 160,000 people to flee their homes, according to the United Nations, Turkey is now seeking the Kremlin’s support to drive Kurdish fighters Ankara regards as a terrorist threat away from a 300-mile strip running along its border.

The price to pay, Turkish officials said, will be to let Russia and the Assad regime complete their offensive in Idlib.

Idlib’s population more than doubled to 1.5 million over the past two years, when civilians fleeing fighting elsewhere in Syria were evacuated to the province. Thousands of rebels who had lost their fight against the Assad regime were also sent there.

The regime, which has reclaimed large swaths of Syria’s territory with support from Russia and Iran since 2015, is determined to reconquer the province, saying it is a haven for radical Islamic groups. In late April, Assad forces and Russian combat jets began pounding towns in the south of Idlib.

Relief organizations say civilians will bear the brunt of a full-scale offensive because an estimated 30,000 to 60,000 militants are dispersed among them.

Rasmiya al Hassan, a Syrian mother of seven, left a village in southern Idlib to reach the Killi hills in September in search of a shelter after her husband was killed and their house destroyed by Assad forces. The 46-year-old widow plowed $50, all her savings, into hiring a vehicle. But the blue pick-up truck in which she and other villagers escaped could only carry 15 people. She had to leave three of her children—three boys in their early teens—behind.

On a recent Tuesday, she stood in a field, next to her possessions: rugs, a couple of mattresses and a cooking pot.

“That’s all we could take with us,” she said. “Where are we going to sleep tonight? Who will help transport my missing children here?”

Turkish authorities allowed The Wall Street Journal to go into Idlib through the heavily guarded Bab al-Hawa border crossing. A representative from the Salvation Government—the political wing of a powerful rebel extremist group known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham—who identified himself as Moussa and accompanied a journalist on the Syrian side, said his group lacked financial resources to cope with the unrelenting flow of families fleeing the south.

To avoid ruining the little farming activity that endures there, the Salvation Government is trying to prevent the new arrivals from trampling on fields where olives and other crops grow. It has bulldozed dirt roads leading to the hills, arranging lines of dusty, patched-up tents and distributing water and bread.

“That’s all we can do,” he said.

Mohammed Rahal struggles daily to find food. Sitting in a shelter, he is looking after 11 children, his own six and five orphans from his brother and sister-in-law, who were killed when the southern Idlib town of Kafranbel was bombed four months ago. His left leg is swollen because of a recent scorpion bite.

“I feel so miserable, I only have stale bread to feed them,” the 34-year-old said, visibly exhausted as his 18-month-old twin nieces curled up on his knees.

Nearby on the hill, Abdelrazzak Bishkawi gestures at his elder sister, Tayba. The 55-year-old Syrian lies on a hospital bed under a tarp, trying to wipe away her tears. Disabled since childhood, she fled in the direction of the Turkish border when Russian bombs destroyed the family farm in southern Idlib.

“Look at her,” Mr. Bishkawi said. “She’s among those the Russians and Assad call terrorists.” He has heard that smugglers were charging $600 a person to take Syrian refugees into Turkey. “I don’t have that money and I can’t abandon my sister,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the offensive to reclaim Idlib was legitimate because the province had fallen under the control of radical groups.

Early last year, the Idlib province appeared a safe destination to Saoussen Moussali. With her husband and their five children, she was evacuated by U.N.-chartered buses from Eastern Ghouta after rebels who held that Damascus suburb surrendered to the Assad regime.

Ms. Moussali, 40, feared her sons would be enlisted in the Syrian army or killed if they stayed. Her elder son was wounded in a 2013 chemical attack on the suburb, and her husband injured in a 2014 airstrike. They had only grass to eat during the final months of the siege.

When they arrived in the southern Idlib town of Maarrat al Nu’man in April 2018, a family let them stay for free and Ms. Moussali’s elder sons found jobs at a local bakery. Her son Mohammed, then 9, attended school for the first time.

In September, however, Ms. Moussali was wounded in the head when the Maarrat al Nu’man house was destroyed by bombs. The family decided to flee toward the Turkish border. “I was so scared,” she said.

Over the course of two days, Ms. Moussali’s husband ferried the family, one by one, to Killi using their most precious possession—a motorcycle.

After wandering in fields for about a week, they found a tent in one of the makeshift camps. Wind swept it away twice in the past week. Now the family is dreading the looming winter.

“I have my children with me,” Ms. Moussali said. “That’s the most important.”

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Syrian civil war: ‘Three killed’ in attack on Turkish convoy

A Syrian government air strike aiming to stop a Turkish convoy reaching a rebel-held town in northern Syria has killed three civilians, Turkey alleges. Another 12 people were injured in the attack in Idlib province on Monday, the Turkish defense ministry said.

Idlib is one of the few areas in Syria not under government control. Syria has condemned the convoy, which is laden with ammunition. Turkey – which supports the rebels – says the strike violates previous agreements.

The agreement – reached last September between Russia and Turkey – should mean Idlib is protected from a major government offensive. But in recent weeks government forces have stepped up their assault on the region – the last major anti-Assad stronghold – killing hundreds of civilians and driving hundreds of thousands from their homes.

On Sunday evening a Russian-backed government offensive reached Khan Sheikhoun, the rebel stronghold where the Turkish convoy is headed. The convoy, which is reportedly made up of armoured vehicles, entered the region on Monday, but the attack has forced it to stop on a highway north of the town.

Map of Syria showing location of Khan Sheikhoun

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that Russian aircraft had carried out strikes near a Turkish convoy in northern Syria on the morning of 19 August.

The convoy’s arrival has been condemned in Syrian state media as an act of aggression. It said the munitions would not stop government forces “hunting the remnants of terrorists”. The incident has raised fears of direct clashes between the countries.

What’s happening in Syria?

After eight years of war, the Syrian government is trying to win back control of the last rebel-held areas. Government forces, backed by Russia, reportedly entered the northwest outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun on Sunday.

Khan Sheikhoun, which was hit by a Sarin gas attack in 2017, is a strategically important town in the south of the province. Syrian forces have now massed to both the east and west of Khan Sheikhoun, and air strikes are targeting the centre and surrounding villages.

Media caption A young face destroyed by war: The impact of an airstrike one year on

Last week a Syrian government war plane was shot down in the area, hit by an anti-aircraft missile fired by militants, according to Syrian state news agency Sana. Jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has claimed responsibility and released footage purportedly showing the captured pilot.

A colonel from a rebel faction confirmed to Reuters news agency that there were battles going on on the outskirts. Fighters from a Turkish-backed rebel force have joined the defence, he said.

Source: BBC News