Humanitarian Crisis Worsens as New Frontline Opens in North-East Syria
Stephen Delahunty on the broken ceasefires and continuing Turkish threats to Kurdish forces.
In Til Timir, Turkish tanks continue to attack Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) positions, fires burn around the edge of the town to obscure the view of Turkish warplanes, and Turkish proxies are shelling villages in the surrounding countryside.
The mood on the ground is not one of a lasting ceasefire. A spokesman for the SDF said: “It’s clear that Turkey has no intention of halting attacks.”
Around 35km inland from the Turkish border, Til Timir has found itself on the frontline of the conflict since the Russian-backed agreement. Heavy fighting has persisted despite Turkey and Russia agreeing to jointly patrol areas along the Syrian border.
The town, once a place of refuge, sits on the strategically important M4 motorway, that goes all the way from Aleppo in Syria to Mosul in Iraq.
The Syrian Government has been transporting troops along the road towards the border region as battle rages in the surrounding countryside. Istanbul wants the road under Turkish control.
SDF forces continue to defend the town as the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has taken up positions in the surrounding region.
“Turkey seeks to advance outside the ceasefire lines agreed between Ankara and Moscow,” said Thomas McClure, a Syria-based researcher at the Rojava Information Centre.
“The SDF withdrew from these fronts to allow SAA units to take their place, as part of their agreed withdrawal from the border zone: but Turkey has failed to observe the ceasefire, killing many SAA soldiers as it pushes forwards.”
As refugees have fled south from Sere Kaniye on Turkey’s border, reports allege Turkish proxies have been kidnapping and executing civilians.
Still, more than 20,000 people have arrived in Til Timir, doubling the town’s population.
McClure said the humanitarian situation in the town was getting worse as Turkish shelling had targeted civilian infrastructure including Alouk water station, which supplies water to 750,000 people in 200 surrounding villages.
The Turkish invasion has already displaced 300,000 people, including 70,000 children to towns like Tel Timir, but the situation could get much worse.
Fawaz Saido is a teacher in the town and described how residents had been helping refugees find somewhere to live.
“We found places for them in the school, in private homes. It’s a very small town, there’s no space left, many people are sleeping in tents.”
Saido said people were short of bread and medicine. “On the second day of war, we could see that Erdogan’s warplanes weren’t fighting a military war only. They are making war against the civilian population.”
Kurd Ibrahim Mohammed, 32, arrived in the town just a few days ago, he described how he fled Sere Kaniye as Turkish warplanes flew overhead and proxies on the ground looted his home.
“Our children are thirsty, hungry, and tired. The whole city was plundered, there is nothing left for us. We hope that some way will open up for us to return to our home.”
Mohammed and his family are staying with more than 50 people from 12 families in a hall in one of Til Timir’s schools.
“Many of our people were killed, many were driven out as refugees, we don’t own a single thing. This is how we left our home. We left everything behind,” he added.
Meanwhile, military casualties and civilians continue to arrive at the town’s hospital.
Dilo Mihemed Eli of the Til Temir hospital said three people were killed and four were wounded on Thursday (Oct 31) as their village came under attack.
“Mortars fell on the village, on a family home. One of those killed was an uncle, and the others mother and father. The wounded are in critical condition.”
Ciwan Musa, is also a doctor at a backline hospital in Til Temir. “Many people injured by Turkish airstrikes come here to our field hospital. Most of them are injured in airstrikes, their situation is critical, both civilians and fighters.
“The biggest problem is that in this place, there are doctors, medical officials, injured people, civilians, when it is bombed, or the Turkish planes strike it, it’s a big problem. It weakens our ability to provide aid, medical care. For this reason, we say medical points must be protected on the international level.”
McCluire said the local NGOs and the Autonomous Administration were doing their best to deal with the number of internally displaced people in Til Timir but there was still a wait upto two days for access to food and medicine.
“As the war has got closer residents have fled, but more refugees continue to arrive, often under attack.”
McCluire explained that the RIC was documenting the human rights abuses being committed by Turkey’s proxies.
He was also keen to stress that the democractic system that has inspired many around the globe the globe was still functioning, and would continue to stand up for pluralism and equality in the region.
The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria has called for a no-fly zone and an international peace-keeping force to patrol the land taken by Turkey under the agreement.
“Turkey is working under cover of the ceasefire to occupy new villages in Sere Kaniye. We call on the international community and UN to send an impartial international force to oversee Sere Kaniye – Tel Abyad, to avoid the ethnic cleansing initiated by Turkey; and international orgs to help document humanitarian disasters in the areas occupied by Turkey.”