Kur­dish-held town un­der siege

Turk­ish, Syr­ian forces ad­vance, putting many civil­ians in line of fire

The Dallas Morning News - - Nation & World - Sarah El Deeb, The As­so­ci­ated Press

BEIRUT — Turkey said Tues­day that its troops and al­lied Syr­ian fight­ers had en­cir­cled the Kur­dish-held town of Afrin in north­ern Syria, putting hun­dreds of thou­sands of civil­ians un­der siege and mark­ing a sig­nif­i­cant mil­i­tary ad­vance in the seven-week op­er­a­tion.

Turkey launched its as­sault on the bor­der en­clave on Jan. 20 to drive out Syr­ian Kur­dish forces, which it views as “ter­ror­ists” linked to Kur­dish rebels fight­ing in­side Turkey. The Turk­ish mil­i­tary said the siege of Afrin, the main town in the en­clave of the same name, be­gan Mon­day af­ter the mil­i­tary took con­trol of “crit­i­cal ar­eas.”

A pas­sage out of Afrin re­mained par­tially open, and thou­sands of peo­ple re­port­edly have fled the town, head­ing to­ward nearby ar­eas con­trolled by the Syr­ian govern­ment. Syria’s Al-ikhbariya TV showed cars, trucks and trac­tors loaded with civil­ians driv­ing out of the town.

Panic was spread­ing in the town as the Turk­ish forces ap­proached, and some civil­ians came un­der fire when they tried to leave, ac­cord­ing to res­i­dents and Syr­ian Kur­dish of­fi­cials.

Azad Mo­hamed, a 32-year old res­i­dent, said his rel­a­tives were fired upon as they tried to es­cape Mon­day, forc­ing them to turn back. He said he can’t de­cide whether to risk the jour­ney out of Afrin with his two chil­dren or to re­main in place.

“Most of the time, I swear, I am act­ing like a mad man. When I sit down for two min­utes, I get up again and start pac­ing to ease the tension,” he said in a se­ries of text mes­sages.

Col. Moataz Raslan, com­man­der of one of the Turkey-al­lied op­po­si­tion groups, said the Kur­dish fight­ers in Afrin should sur­ren­der or leave the area. He said it was the Kur­dish fight­ers who were pre­vent­ing civil­ians from leav­ing and fir­ing on those who do.

But Mo­hamed said most of the Kur­dish fight­ers come from the area and would never give up their home­town. “Their fam­i­lies will never for­give them if they leave,” he said.

A top Syr­ian Kur­dish of­fi­cial, Fawza Yousef, de­scribed in­tense Turk­ish shelling of the town and said Turk­ish forces were ex­pected to “in­vade” soon.

Else­where in Syria, dozens of civil­ians were evac­u­ated from the be­sieged, rebel-held Da­m­as­cus sub­urbs of eastern Ghouta, ar­riv­ing on foot and in buses at an army check­point set up by the Syr­ian and Rus­sian mil­i­taries.

The Syr­ian Amer­i­can Med­i­cal So­ci­ety, which sup­ports health fa­cil­i­ties in eastern Ghouta, said 31 pa­tients were evac­u­ated along with their fam­i­lies, amount­ing to 170 civil­ians. It said another 1,034 peo­ple still in­side the en­clave need im­me­di­ate med­i­cal evac­u­a­tion.

The United Na­tions says it ob­served the evac­u­a­tion of 147 civil­ians, in­clud­ing 10 peo­ple in crit­i­cal con­di­tion, from Douma, the largest town in eastern Ghouta.

About 400,000 peo­ple are es­ti­mated to be trapped in eastern Ghouta, which has been un­der a crip­pling block­ade and heavy bom­bard­ment for weeks.

Agence France-presse

Cars filled a road out­side Afrin on Mon­day as civil­ians at­tempted to flee the ad­vance­ment of Turk­ish and Syr­ian forces on the Kur­dish-held Syr­ian town.

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