In Syria’s Afrin, locals mobilize to defend hometown against Turkey

Syrian Kurds mourn during a funeral in the town of Afrin on January 29, 2018, of civilians and fighters from the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) who were killed in battles in Syria’s border region of Afrin as the Turkish army press an offensive against Kurdish militia in the area. (AFP)
Updated 05 February 2018
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In Syria’s Afrin, locals mobilize to defend hometown against Turkey

AFRIN: Ammunition belts slung over their shoulders, voices cracking from the chanting, dozens of young Syrian Kurds amassed in Afrin’s town square to enlist in the “resistance” movement against a Turkish-backed assault.
They wore mismatched military gear, some in jeans and others with scarves wrapped around their faces.
A few admitted it was the first time they had ever touched a weapon, but said they felt compelled to defend their hometown.
“Afrin is where I grew up, just like my parents and my grandparents before me. This is why it’s a duty for me to fight for it,” says Asmaa, 19.
The first-year journalism student at Afrin University decided last month to leave her studies behind and respond to a call to arms by local Kurdish authorities.
Town officials called for a “mass mobilization” of civilians to fight an assault by Turkish troops and allied rebels on the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Afrin.
They estimate hundreds have joined so far — some deployed to the front lines while others have volunteered for hospital shifts or rescue teams that search for survivors after bombardment.
Asmaa, a black-and-white scarf wrapped around her neck, says she enlisted to take part in the fighting.
“Today, I don’t see myself as a student. I see myself as a fighter,” she says assertively.
The crowd around her splits into two lines — one for young men and one for women — and begin marching through Afrin for an impromptu military parade.
As shopkeepers look on, the youth wave YPG flags and chant, “No to occupation!” and “Long live the heroic resisters!“
“There has been an increasing number of volunteers, and each young man or woman can choose which institution they want to volunteer for depending on their experience and capacities,” says Rezan Haddu, a media adviser to YPG in Afrin.
“Some volunteered as YPG fighters, others provide logistical support like food, transportation, and clothes,” he tells AFP.
Turkey and allied Syrian rebels began their cross-border assault on the Afrin region on January 20, and most of the fighting has been concentrated along the mountainous frontier.
Ankara has blacklisted the YPG as a “terror” group for its ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a deadly and decades-long insurgency against the Turkish government.
Local authorities had to act quickly to hold off the offensive, says Jinda Tulhaldan, a leader in the Kurdish Youth Movement’s Afrin branch.
“We give them a week of military training and teach them how to use weapons,” says Tulhaldan.
“We know a week isn’t enough, but we were attacked and had to defend our city with whatever we had in front of us.”
The Afrin region juts out from Syria’s northern Aleppo province, but it is governed under a semi-autonomous system established by Kurdish factions in 2013.
Under that system, people between the ages of 18 and 32 must spend one year in military conscription, says the YPG’s spokesman in Afrin, Birusk Hasakah.
Hasakah says “hundreds” of recruits had now fully enlisted in the YPG and allied groups, including members of local government who had closed public office and taken up arms.
“Others decided to prepare tea and food to distribute to the fronts, and others are volunteering in the hospitals,” he says.
“We were trained in light weapons from the youth center in Afrin,” says Tirij Hassan, a 22-year-old attending the recruitment rally.
“It’s the first time I carry weapons, but I’m happy about it because I’ll be defending Afrin, its people, and its children.”
Turkey says it does everything it can to avoid hitting civilians.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 68 civilians have been killed including 21 children since Turkey launched operation “Olive Branch” last month.
At least three civilians have also been killed by rocket fire from Syria onto Turkish territory.
More than 100 YPG fighters and about the same number of pro-Turkey rebels have also died in the fight, the Britain-based monitor said.
“Turkish warplanes are bombing Afrin. They are bombing civilians and attacking us and our forces,” says Farhad Akid, a 21-year-old agricultural engineering student in the Afrin city center.
“As young men, we’ve pledged ourselves to resist, to protect Afrin and our people. We won’t allow a single Turkish occupier to enter our blessed land.”


Masked attackers kill five Syria rescuers: White Helmets

Updated 26 May 2018
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Masked attackers kill five Syria rescuers: White Helmets

  • The White Helmets said armed men stormed the Al-Hader center in a pre-dawn attack and fired on the first responders inside.
  • Four volunteers were killed on the spot and a fifth died later in hospital.

BEIRUT: Five Syrian rescue workers were killed in an attack by masked assailants Saturday on one of their centers in the northern province of Aleppo, the White Helmets said.
The White Helmets said armed men stormed the Al-Hader center in a pre-dawn attack and fired on the first responders inside.
Four volunteers were killed on the spot and a fifth died later in hospital, it wrote on Twitter.
Founded in 2013, the White Helmets are a network of first responders who rescue wounded in the aftermath of air strikes, shelling or blasts in rebel-held territory.
The Al-Hader center lies in a part of Aleppo province controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), an extremist organization whose main component was once Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.
“At around 2:00 am, an armed group stormed the Al-Hader center, blindfolded the staff members who were on the night shift, and killed five of them,” said Ahmad Al-Hamish, who heads the center.
“Two others were wounded and another two were able to flee. The attackers were masked and escaped after stealing some equipment and generators,” he said.
It was unclear whether the attack was a robbery-gone-wrong or if the center and its crew had been specifically targeted.
More than 200 White Helmets rescuers have been killed in Syria’s seven-year war, usually in bombing raids or shelling on their centers.
While attacks like the one on Saturday are rare, they have happened before.
In August, seven White Helmets members were killed in a similar attack in the town of Sarmin, in neighboring Idlib province.
Most of Idlib is held by HTS, as well as a part of Aleppo and the adjacent province of Hama.
Tensions are on the rise there, with a wave of intra-opposition assassinations and clashes leaving at least 20 rebels dead in 48 hours, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“You cannot separate the Al-Hader incident from the assassinations and other killings that have been happening more and more in recent weeks in areas under HTS control,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The population of Idlib province has swelled to more than two million people as a result of massive transfers of rebels and civilians from onetime opposition zones elsewhere in the country.
The killings come as the White Helmets are facing a “freeze” on funding from the United States, which is still reviewing over $200 million earmarked for stabilization in Syria.