‘Fear reigns’ among Syrian Kurds after Turkish strikes

Kurds in northern Syria, awoken overnight by deadly Turkish airstrikes, expressed fear and anger on Sunday, accusing the US of abandoning them after leading the fight against the Islamic State group.

In the small town of Al Malikiyya, in the far northeastern corner of Syria, shops were closed and the streets deserted.

“We are afraid because we have been through this before,” said Mohammed Rajab, who already fled the northern city of Afrin during the Turkish offensive four years ago.

“We face the same fear again when we hear the sounds of planes and airstrikes,” said the 65-year-old man.

“Where do we go? There is nowhere else to go,” he added. “We place ourselves in God’s hands.”

After overnight strikes in northern and northeastern Syria – mainly in and around the city of Kobane – Ankara said on Sunday it had carried out raids against outlawed Kurdish militant bases in northern Syria and Iraq.

The deadly attack came a week after an explosion in central Istanbul killed six people and injured 81, which Turkey blamed on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody insurgency there for decades.

– “We are afraid” –

The Syrian Democratic Forces, the de facto army of the semi-autonomous Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria, have provided important assistance to the US-led coalition against IS jihadists.

Turkey, whose soldiers are present in areas of northern Syria, considers the main component of the SDF, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), to be a terrorist group linked to the PKK.

Since May, Turkey has increased its threats to launch a large-scale operation against the SDF.

Both the PKK and the YPG have denied involvement in the Istanbul attack.

“Every time there are threats, we are afraid, we can’t sleep, activity in the city stops,” said Abir Mohammed, who runs a pastry shop in the city.

“We are thinking of leaving, but what to do with the houses?” she added.

Between 2016 and 2019, Turkey launched three operations in northern Syria, targeting Kurdish militias and organizations and taking control of the Afrin region.

The 2019 attack came after then-President Donald Trump controversially withdrew US troops from parts of the country’s northeast.

– “Stained with blood” –

Dozens of people staged a brief protest in Al-Maliki on Sunday, condemning Turkey’s attacks but also Washington’s “abandonment,” an AFP correspondent said.

Some waved Kurdish flags or held pictures of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who remains imprisoned in Turkey.

“Death to America,” shouted one protester, an unusual slogan in a region where US forces still lead the international coalition against IS.

“America is a partner of (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan, whose hands are stained with the blood of our martyrs,” said the protester, who wished to remain anonymous.

“America could have prevented the deaths of our soldiers who paid with their blood to protect us,” she added.

In Kobane, residents said many shops and schools were closed on Sunday.

The northern city has become a symbol of Kurdish resistance since the US-backed YPG ousted IS in a battle that began in late 2014.

“The hero city of Kobane stopped the global terror of ISIS and protected humanity, and now they must be supported by the international community,” YPG spokesman Nuri Mahmoud tweeted, referring to the extremist group.

Bozan Ahmed, a resident of Kobane, said that “fear prevails among civilians.”

“We don’t know if the bombing will continue or not,” he told AFP by phone.

Some people hid in shelters or basements, while others fled to nearby villages, he said.

“We fear for our children and our families. We don’t know where to go,” Ahmed said.

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