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.”


Syria stuck with Assad for now, says UK minister Jeremy Hunt

Updated 58 min 5 sec ago
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Syria stuck with Assad for now, says UK minister Jeremy Hunt

  • Jeremy Hunt, the UK foreign secretary, said that Assad is likely to remain in his position “for the short-term and possibly longer”
  • Hunt added that the UK has “no plans” to reopen diplomatic relations with Syria

LONDON: Syria has no future under Bashar Assad but is stuck with the president due to Russian support, Britain’s top diplomat has said.
Jeremy Hunt, the UK foreign secretary, said that Assad is likely to remain in his position “for the short-term and possibly longer,” and called on Moscow to come forward with a solution.
“Assad … is a truly horrific man who has shown that he won’t hesitate to butcher his own people in order to prolong his hold on power. And what future would a country like Syria have with a leader like that?,” Hunt said in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
“But the reality is because of Russian support, he is there and he is likely to stay for the short-term and possibly longer. It is for the Russians now to come forward with their solution because they have chosen to intervene in the way they have.”
Hunt said it was “impossible” for Syria to have a bright future with Assad still in power.
“This is a man who mercilessly gassed his own people in the most brutally possible way against all international norms, and the Russians chose to prop him up. So it is for Russia now to show they are going to create peace and stability in Syria,” he said.
Hunt added that the UK has “no plans” to reopen diplomatic relations with Syria.
The British official said the US withdrawal from eastern Syria should not take place in a way that harms “our allies like the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) in Syria who fought very bravely along Western troops for many years.”
Asked about Britain’s role following the US pullout from Syria, Hunt said: “There is no prospect of British troops going in to replace the American troops leaving, but of course we had discussions with the United States on an ongoing basis and when I was in Washington a couple of weeks ago about how we stabilize the situation in Syria.”
Hunt also spoke about the territorial defeat of Daesh in Syria and Iraq — but cautioned that was not the same as crushing the mindset behind the terror group.
“We have not yet eliminated the cause of the Daesh movement which is so evil and so destructive and there is a lot more work left to do,” he said.
“It is very important that the global coalition does not hang its hat up and say we are done now, because if we do that there is a very good chance that Daesh will be back.”
“There (is) some evidence now in parts of Iraq that (Daesh is) regrouping and regathering strength.”
On Yemen, Hunt underlined the need for a comprehensive solution that would prevent Iran from using the country as a base to destabilize neighboring states.
Asked about his recent participation in the Warsaw Conference on the Middle East, the British foreign secretary said that the meetings went beyond the Iranian role in the region to touch on reshaping alliances in the Middle East.
He added that he attended a “very productive meeting about Yemen,” in the presence of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir and his UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed.
“We spent a long time talking about what is necessary to get peace over the line in Yemen,” he said.
In this regard, Hunt affirmed that a comprehensive settlement in Yemen could only be reached through “a government of national unity in which the Houthis have a stake in which the security of all communities in Yemen is assured, in which Iran is no longer using Yemen as a base to destabilize Yemen’s neighbors, and in which we can end the terrible humanitarian crisis which is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world right now.”
According to Hunt, the problem lies in how to achieve a final solution and to build trust, in particular the importance of implementing the Stockholm Agreement and withdrawal from the city of Hodeidah “so that we can open up the Red Sea Mills,” where 51,000 tones of UN wheat is stored.
He noted that he held a lengthy discussion with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif about this issue.
According to Hunt, he was told by Zarif that Iran wants to play its part in finding a solution. “We took those commitments at face value but we do now need to see that translated into the Houthis leaving the Port of Hodeideh.”
“All of us know that if that does not happen soon, we are going to see a return to hostilities and that would be an absolute tragedy to the people of Yemen,” Hunt said.
A version of this story was originally published in Asharq Al-Awsat