U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has called for an investigation to be launched into Turkey’s alleged use of chemical weapons during its military offensive in northern Syria.
In a letter she penned with Juan Vargas, Karen Bass and Sheila Jackson Lee, Omar asked James Jeffrey, U.S. Representative for Syria Engagement, whether Turkish forces used white phosphorus on civilians in Syria on Oct. 16.
Omar criticized Jeffrey for failing to follow up on statements he made during a House Foreign Affairs hearing on Oct. 23, when he said he was “looking into” allegations of chemical weapons use against civilians.
“Considering the seriousness of the allegations, simply ‘looking into’ this matter is far from the appropriate response. Nothing short of a full and through investigation will suffice,” she said.
Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring on Oct. 9 with Syrian rebels in northern Syria with the aims of clearing the border of People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main U.S. ally in the fight against ISIS, and establishing a safe zone for the settlement of refugees.
Ankara perceives the YPG as a terrorist organization due to its links with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – a group designated as terrorist by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union.
Allegations of use of chemical weapons have surfaced repeatedly since the beginning of the incursion, with Turkish authorities denying the issue.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on Oct. 18 that “it was aware of the situation and is collecting information with regard to possible use of chemical weapons.”
The Kurdish Red Crescent said in a statement that six patients, both civilian and military, were in hospital in Hasakah with burns from “unknown weapons” and it was working to evaluate what had been used.
In the letter, Omar called on Jim Jeffrey to provide a full briefing – in private if necessary – into whether it believes the incident during the Turkish invasion two months ago amounts to a war crime.
“The United States is uniquely positioned as a NATO ally of Turkey and a partner of the Syrian Kurds, who are the alleged victims of this attack, to take a lead on a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding [it],” the letter read.
“We recognize that, under domestic and international law, white phosphorous has both legitimate military uses and illegitimate ones. However, the allegations from organizations and individuals on the ground, including the Kurdish Red Crescent, are clear in this case: That Turkey’s use was targeted at civilians and falls under the category of illegitimate use,” it added.
Omar also asked what State Department’s actions would be if the allegations were proved to be true.
“Will the Department of State commit to full accountability for the perpetrators of the attack if it is found to be in violation of domestic or international law, including potentially using a Security Council resolution to request an investigation from the International Criminal Court?” Omar asked.