House OKs Turkey Sanctions in Rare Bipartisan Rebuke of Trump

In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, smoke and dust billows from targets in Ras al-Ayn, Syria, caused by bombardment by Turkish forces, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. Turkish artillery on Tuesday pounded suspected Syrian Kurdish positions near the town in northeast Syria amid reports that Kurdish fighters had retaken the town as Turkey pressed ahead with a military incursion that has drawn widespread condemnation. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

WASHINGTON (CN) – A week after President Donald Trump announced plans to lift sanctions on Turkey as part of a ceasefire, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a sweeping sanctions package against Turkish officials and financial institutions over the country’s invasion of northern Syria.

The sanctions the House approved with a 403-16 vote fall on several Turkish officials, including its minister of national defense, and state-owned Halkbank. Under the House-passed bill, the sanctions would extend to any other financial institution that facilitated financial transactions connected to the invasion.

Fifteen Republicans opposed the measure, joined by Representative Ilhan Omar – the lone Democrat to vote against the sanctions.

The vote comes after widespread and bipartisan condemnation of Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, in turn allowing Turkey to launch an invasion of the region. Turkey agreed to a ceasefire last week brokered by the Trump administration.

After the agreement, Trump lifted sanctions imposed by the Treasury Department days after the invasion.

Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops and the resulting Turkish invasion was loudly criticized as an abandonment of Kurds in Syria, a group that has been a key U.S. partner in the coalition battling the Islamic State in the country. Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan has cracked down on Kurds and Turkey considers the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish militia in Syria, a terrorist organization – leading to concerns the invasion could result in ethnic cleansing.

The United Nations has said at least 160,000 people have been displaced in northern Syria as a result of the Turkish offensive. This month, Amnesty International said it had received “damning evidence” that Turkish forces had committed war crimes, including the execution of a Syrian-Kurdish politician.

Representative Eliot Engel, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said by lifting the sanctions the administration imposed on Turkey, Trump was letting Erdogan “off scot-free” and that the House sanctions would right that wrong.

“These people fought with us, these people took bullets for us, these people were our loyal and faithful allies and for the United States to turn our backs on them or to start a chain of events which would hurt them really is a very dark day in our country’s history,” Engel, a New York Democrat, said of the Kurds on Tuesday.

Trump’s handling of the Turkish invasion of Syria has been a rare point of criticism from Republicans in Congress who are generally quick to defend the president. This month, the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning Trump’s move to withdraw U.S. forces from the region.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who wrote an op-ed in opposition to Trump’s strategy in Syria, has urged caution with sanctions against Turkey, a NATO member.

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