Women react as they flee their homes in the village of Tal Aswad, 5km north of Afrin city on Saturday. Photo: Nazeer al-Khatib/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The humanitarian situation in Afrin is increasingly dire, a conflict monitor has warned, as Turkey is threatening to send its forces into Afrin city and Kurdish forces are calling for worldwide rallies to support the region in its defence against Turkey.
Civilians are fleeing ahead of Turkish forces closing in on the urban centre of Afrin, with some moving towards regime-controlled areas.
“Thousands of civilians from Afrin and surrounding villages are rushing to Afrin, in addition to displacement of 12,000 civilians to Nabl and al-Zahra villages,” reported the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday, describing the situation as "increasingly tragic."
Nabl and al-Zahra are located north of Aleppo city, in area under control of Damascus and its allies.
The United Nations has estimated there are 323,000 civilians in Afrin.
The Observatory has documented the deaths of 204 civilians since Turkey and its allied Syrian militias launched Operation Olive Branch on January 20. The conflict monitor has also reported the deaths of 414 fighters from among the Operation Olive Branch ranks, including 71 Turkish soldiers. On the Kurdish side, the Observatory reported the deaths of 376 YPG fighters.
Turkey has denied the reports of civilian casualties.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that were it not for civilians, his forces would take Afrin within three days.
“If we do like other countries who disregard their conscience, morals, and sensitivity we would control Afrin within three days,” he said during his party’s provincial congress in Mersin.
Turkish forces are a few hundred metres from the northeast edge of Afrin city, the largest urban centre in the canton. They are also advancing in the east and southwest, the Observatory reported, noting the possibility of a siege on the city.
Erdogan said their “soldiers are advancing toward Afrin” downtown.
Turkish planes targeted the outskirts of Afrin city on Sunday morning, hitting several houses, according to YPG-linked media ANF.
The YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) published an urgent call on Saturday for “Kurdish, Syrian diaspora and democratic parties to start protests in support of the resilient nation of Afrin and against the Turkish invading attacks, and to stop Turkey’s agenda from dividing Syria and rescuing one million people from the murder and destruction committed by Turkey in Afrin."
Pro-Afrin rallies were held on Saturday in Toulouse, France, and Kiel and Munich, Germany. More are planned for Sunday.
The YPG are a key ally of the US-led coalition in the war against ISIS in northern Syria, an alliance that has angered Ankara where the Kurdish groups in Syria are considered branches of the banned PKK.
Erdogan again accused the United States of supporting terrorism and said that “if anyone looks at us wrongly, our two fingers will be in their eyes.”
He also called out NATO for failing to back Turkey in Syria.
“We are doing all this fight. Is not Turkey a NATO state? Where are you? You called us in Afghanistan, we went. You called us in Somalia, we went. Now I am calling you. Come on, come to Syria. Why are not you coming? Be faithful and truthful. Do your duty.”