Kurds flee the city of Afrin this week as Turkish forces and Syrian militias approach. Photo: George Ourfalian/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A conflict monitor has urged the United Nations and global human rights organizations to take urgent action to help hundreds of thousands of civilians in Afrin as the humanitarian situation in the Kurdish canton under Turkish bombardment becomes “catastrophic.”
The “humanitarian situation is getting catastrophic in Afrin area, as a result of increased shelling and escalation of ground attack,” the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated on Friday.
Thousands of civilians are sleeping in the open in Afrin city and the surrounding farmlands and villages, the Observatory noted.
Turkey, along with Syrian rebel militia groups, began its operation against the Kurdish enclave on January 20, launching attacks on multiple fronts along Afrin’s borders.
Civilians in the border areas moved towards central Afrin canton.
A month into its campaign, Turkish forces took the last border area and were then in control of 250 kilometres of the Turkey-Syria border running from Jarablus on the western bank of the Euphrates River to the Atmah area in Idlib.
Turkey then turned its focus to the urban areas. It is now in control of five towns, Bulbul, Rajo, Jandaris, Shera, and Sheikh Hadid, and brought in police special forces to assist in the urban fighting and to hold the towns after military operations were complete. Turkey controls some 34 percent of the canton, according to Observatory figures.
On Friday, Turkey took control of the Maydanki dam 12 kilometres north of Afrin city. The dam is the primary water source for Afrin.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Friday afternoon that his forces were ready to enter Afrin city at any moment.
The Observatory has noted a movement of more than 12,000 civilians from central Afrin, headed to the southeast and the towns of Nubl and al-Zahra, north of Aleppo and under Damascus control.
Concerned about the humanitarian conditions and escalation of Turkish shelling, the Observatory called on the UN High Commission for Human Rights and international rights organizations to “move for the relief of hundreds of thousands of citizens who are suffering…”
According to UN figures at the start of the conflict, 323,000 people are living in Afrin and nearby areas under Kurdish control. Of them, 192,000 are in need of humanitarian aid and 125,000 are IDPs displaced from other parts of Syria.
At least 204 civilians have been killed as of Friday, according to the Observatory. Local health officials put the civilian death toll higher. Turkey has denied harming civilians in its offensive.
The Observatory has previously called for a humanitarian corridor to be opened to allow civilians to cross into regime-controlled territory, citing concern about a possible siege on Afrin.
At least one international aid convoy has reached the beleaguered canton in Syria’s northwestern corner. A 29-truck convoy of food, medical supplies, and basic necessities from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Syria and the Syrian Red Crescent arrived in Afrin on March 1.
Turkey has framed its operation as counter-terrorism, alleging that the Kurdish groups in northern Syria, the armed YPG and YPJ and the ruling political party PYD, are branches of the PKK, a named terror groups.
The Kurdish groups follow the doctrine of PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan, but maintain they are distinct organizations.
Kurds accuse Turkey of making a land grab and wanting to wipe out the Kurdish population in Afrin.