Fleeing Turkish fire, Syrians seek refuge in Afrin city
Fleeing Turkish fire, Syrians seek refuge in Afrin city
The family piled into a rusted pickup truck with whatever they could scavenge from their demolished home and drove north to Afrin, the city at the heart of the Kurdish-held enclave by the same name.
Blinking tears out of his eyes, Hassan clambered out of the small truck in Afrin after the drive from his native Jandairis, a border town.
“The bombardment wouldn’t let us sleep. We spent three nights in the basement,” said Hassan, a red-and-white scarf wrapped around his head.
The man in his late forties had left the underground shelter to try to convince his elderly father to flee the town with his family.
“He wouldn’t accept,” Hassan said, until a new round of Turkish bombing hit their neighborhood and “I had to pull him out from under (shattered) glass.”
Turkey and allied Syrian fighters have since Saturday been waging an offensive against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which controls the Afrin region.
As part of the push, Ankara has been pounding the canton’s border towns with artillery fire and thousands of people have reportedly fled, many of them to Afrin city.
“The shells hit every neighborhood, they hit the generators and the bakery. Nothing is left,” said Hassan.
“Our house is gone. Our neighbor’s house is gone. If I hadn’t left, I would have died.”
According to the UN, more than 300,000 people live in the Afrin canton, including more than 120,000 who have already been displaced at least once.
Those arriving in the city from battered border regions have struggled to find adequate shelter and have settled into squalid conditions.
In one half-finished building, women and children sat cross-legged on mattresses on the earth floor, surrounded by cinderblocks, shoes and camping stoves.
New families were still arriving outside, some pulling kitchen supplies, food and bags of clothes from pickup trucks.
But Zarifa Hussein and her children had no time to pack belongings.
“We didn’t bring anything with us. We fled our house barefoot and spent the night in a bomb shelter,” said Hussein, who was dressed in multiple layers.
The pregnant woman said a cinderblock even crashed on her back as she ran out of her home.
“In the morning, we went to get our things and found the house demolished,” she said.
Another woman came down from the pickup truck angrily waving a pointed sliver of metal in the air.
“As we fled Jandairis, this flew behind us,” she said, her hair wrapped in a green and brown scarf.
“May it strike them (attackers) right between the eyes.”
In Afrin’s main hospital, Arze Sido sat nervously by a hospital bed, where her adult son lay motionless and hooked up to an intravenous drip.
Early this week, Sido and her wounded son, two young daughters and mother-in-law escaped the border town of Midan Akbas and headed southeast to stay with relatives in Afrin.
“I was so scared for my daughters,” she said.
“My son wanted to grab bread but I told him, come, there’s shelling,” said Sido, wearing a pale floral headscarf.
“As he was getting it, the Turkish army shelled us. We had to pull him out and bring him to the hospital. He’s been here for more than three days now.”
Turkey has pressed its offensive despite global calls for de-escalation.
Jumaa Hassan Hassoun, a 56-year-old displaced from Jandairis, said it was time world powers stepped in.
“I left with my children: seven daughters, two boys, and my wife,” said the Jandairis native.
“We want our voices to reach the whole world — save us from this!” he cried.
Israeli forces wound 77 Palestinians at protest near Gaza Strip border
- Palestinians have been protesting along the border since March 30, demanding an end to Israel’s blockade of the territory and the right to return to lands that Palestinians fled or were driven from upon Israel’s founding in 1948
GAZA: Israeli soldiers shot and wounded 77 Palestinians during protests near the Gaza Strip border on Friday, the enclave’s Health Ministry said.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said about 10,000 demonstrators massed at the border and that some threw burning tires, grenades and explosive devices at the troops across the fence. About 30 Palestinians suffered tear gas inhalation, the Gaza Health Ministry said.
But the protest was relatively small — some of the previous gatherings included about 30,000 people, a sign that tensions that have built up in the past few days may be easing.
On Thursday, Israel had ramped up armored forces along the Gaza border, a day after a rocket fired from the enclave destroyed a home in southern Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, vowed “very strong action” if attacks continued. A Palestinian official said Egyptian security officials had held separate meetings in the past few days with Israeli counterparts and with leaders of the Palestinian Hamas group that rules Gaza in an effort to prevent an escalation in violence.
Palestinians have been protesting along the border since March 30, demanding an end to Israel’s blockade of the territory and the right to return to lands that Palestinians fled or were driven from upon Israel’s founding in 1948. About 200 Gazans have been killed by Israeli troops since the protests started, according to Palestinian Health Ministry figures. Pale stinians have launched incendiary balloons and kites into Israel and on occasion breached the Israeli frontier fence. More than 2 million Palestinians are packed into the narrow coastal enclave. Israel pulled troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but maintains tight control of its land and sea borders.
Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza on its border. Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s Mideast peace envoy, earlier urged Israel and the Palestinians to exercise restraint ahead of the protests. Mosque loudspeakers in the Palestinian enclave urged Gazans to attend Friday’s demonstrations, despite statements by Gaza’s leaders that Hamas seeks to rein in the protests. “In light of today’s planned Gaza march, I urge all to exercise restraint, to proceed in a peaceful manner, and to avoid escalation,” Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement. “The UN is working with Egypt and its partners to avoid violence, address all humanitarian issues and support reconciliation.”
Egyptian intelligence officials met with Hamas and Israeli officials on Thursday in efforts to broker a cease-fire and ease months of deadly border protests. Egypt and the UN have attempted to negotiate a truce between Israel and Hamas for weeks in a bid to ease tensions in the beleaguered Gaza Strip.
Hamas has organized weekly protests since March that seek, in part, to secure an easing of the Egyptian-Israeli blockade of the Palestinian enclave imposed after the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007 in an armed coup.
At least 156 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire at the protests, and an Israeli solider was killed by a Palestinian sniper.
The protests have intensified in recent weeks as Egyptian and UN cease-fire negotiations have faltered, and cross-border violence earlier this week has brought tensions to a simmer.
On Wednesday, a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip destroyed a house in the Israeli city of Beersheba in the worst bout of violence in recent weeks. Israel retaliated with airstrikes and has beefed up its military forces along the border. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet resolved to retaliate more severely to cross-border attacks, but has thus far refrained from further action, suggesting it was giving the Egyptians a chance to restore calm.