Syria War: ‘Civilians Flee’ Turkish Assault on Afrin Enclave
Hundreds of civilians are reported to have been displaced by fierce clashes between Turkish-led forces and Kurdish fighters on Syria’s northern border.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said people were fleeing the Kurdish enclave of Afrin and heading towards government-held Aleppo.
But it cited sources as saying they were being prevented from crossing into the city’s mainly Kurdish districts.
The Turkish military is trying to drive a Kurdish militia out of Afrin.
Ankara says the People’s Protection Units (YPG) is an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought for Kurdish autonomy in south-eastern Turkey for three decades. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group.
The YPG denies any direct organisational links to the PKK – an assertion backed by the US, which has provided the militia and allied Arab fighters with weapons and air support to help them battle the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) in Syria.
Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebels so far appear to have made limited gains since the air and ground offensive began on Saturday.
On Tuesday, the Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency reported that rebels had captured the “strategic” village of Hammam in north-western Afrin, as well as two hills. It also reported that a second Turkish soldier had been killed in clashes.
YPG sources told the Kurdish Hawar news agency that its fighters had foiled an attempt to seize the village of Qastal Jando, killing many attackers.
Kurdish leaders also invited civilians to take up arms, saying the YPG was “ready to receive all those who wish to defend Afrin and provide them with weapons”.
The Syrian Observatory reported that thousands of civilians were trying to flee to Aleppo, about 50km (30 miles) from the town of Afrin. However, it cited unnamed sources as saying people were being stopped at government checkpoints and prevented from reaching the homes of relatives and friends in two Kurdish districts.
There was no immediate comment from the government, which has mostly avoided conflict with the Kurds.
The UN said it was deeply concerned by the fighting, and warned that an estimated 323,000 civilians in Afrin were at risk. About 126,000 people living in the enclave had already been displaced and were at risk of further upheaval, it added.
“We have been preparing for a large scale response depending on the needs of the civilian population,” spokesman Stéphane Dujarric told reporters. “We cannot stress enough the need for all parties involved to protect civilians, to protect civilian infrastructure, and to respect international law.”