As many as seven civilians, including two children, have died in clashes between Syrian rebels, backed by Turkey, in the city of Afrin, news reports say.
The reports come as several groups appeal to the UN to address atrocities allegedly committed by Turkey and its allied in the Afrin region of Syria.
The Al-Monitor news portal cited war monitors as saying that several civilians, including two children, were killed in the fighting that erupted on Thursday in the city in northwestern Syria, which has been under the control of Turkey and Syrian rebels since March 2018.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group reported that seven people had been killed in the fighting.
According to the Middle East Eye news portal rebels from the Hamza Division were the Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham factions, who had been displaced to the area after retreating from Eastern Ghouta in 2018.
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All three factions are part of the Turkish backed umbrella Syrian National Army (SNA), also known as the Free Syria Army.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported that five civilians had been killed in the clashes between the rival factions.
SANA reported that it had been informed by “sources” that the rival groups had stormed each others’ bases and torched them. It further reported that machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons were used in the clashes that killed and injured “a number” of rebel fighters.
Turkish troops and allied fighters seized the Afrin region from Kurdish forces (YPG) in March 2018 after a two-month air and ground offensive.
Ankara has been struggling to clear the area east of the Euphrates River of the YPG and its political wing, the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) accusing the groups of cooperating with the PKK.
Turkey designates PKK, an armed group that has waged a separatist insurgency since 1984, as a terrorist organization.
The YPG is known for its leading role in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria alongside the US-led international coalition during the nine-year-old civil war in the country.
Appeal to UN to investigate atrocities
However, Turkey’s seizure and occupation of Afrin has been severely criticized with SNA repeatedly being accused of human rights breaches, especially against local Kurds.
On Sunday the Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM) – a left-wing Kurdish umbrella movement – called on the United Nations (U.N.) to investigate atrocities committed by Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies in the Afrin region.
According to the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency, TEV-DEM wanted the U.N. to investigate the “kidnapping and murder of civilians, including women and children, and demographic engineering” by Turkey and its Syrian allies in Afrin.
The ANF news agency reported on Saturday that some 20 civil and legal organizations had made a joint appeal to appeal to Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the U.N., Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights and Paulo Pinheiro, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, to address atrocities committed by Turkey and its allies in the region.
It quoted the appeal as stating: “The violations and crimes against the defenseless civilians in the Afrin region reached the most dramatic and horrible intensity, and offend human dignity, without the slightest consideration or respect for religious and international laws. Those abhorrent actions and abuses committed by the Syrian armed factions that the Turkish intelligence services unleashed to commit all kinds of violations, including moral ones against the Syrian Kurdish residents of Afrin, men and women, elderly and children, with the aim to force them to leave their homes in order to complete Turkey’s plans to change the demography of the region and obliterate its Kurdish identity.”
There appeared to be no immediate response from the Turkish government or a response from the U.N. to the appeal.
Syria has been in the midst of a brutal civil war since 2011 that has killed an estimated 400,000 people and displaced millions internally. An estimated five million Syrians have fled their country.