Civilians drive through Ain Dara as they flee Afrin on Monday. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Civilians are fleeing Afrin as Turkish forces and their Syrian allies continue to advance on the major urban centre, Afrin city.
"More than 2,000 civilians have arrived in the area of Nubl," a town under the control of Damascus, north of Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, AFP reported.
“Several hundred more are still on the roads,” trying to leave the Kurdish canton, the Observatory added.
As hundreds flee, local media reported that thousands are travelling from eastern parts of Rojava, northern Syria to show solidarity with the people of Afrin.
Turkish forces and their allied Syrian militias are trying to surround the city. State-run Anadolu Agency reported that there are two gaps remaining: 1.5 kilometres in the southeast and 3.5 kilometres in the south.
The United Nations has estimated there are 323,000 civilians in Afrin.
More than 200 civilians have been killed, according to Observatory figures. Turkey denies harming civilians in its operations.
Yezidi genocide survivor and UN Goodwill Ambassador Nadia Murad issued a warning on Monday about the safety of the Yezidi minority and the whole civilian population in Afrin.
“There is only one road through which people can leave the city” that is “under siege from all sides,” she stated.
Warning of war crimes, including civilian deaths, looting, shaming of minorities, and destruction of religious sites, Murad appealed to international bodies to intervene.
“This horror is reminiscent of the initial actions of ISIS in Iraq… This situation foreshadows ‘ethnic cleansing’ and genocide,” she stated, stressing that now is the time “to heal wounds” and prevent violence in Iraq and Syria.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent announced on Sunday that it is working with the United Nations to prepare a second humanitarian aid convoy to deliver necessary assistance to Afrin and Tal Rafaat in “response to the increasing humanitarian needs.”
The first convoy of 29 trucks delivered food, clothing, winter supplies, medical supplies, and water materials for 50,000 people on March 1.
A British volunteer fighter with the Kurdish armed force, the YPG, Jamie Janson, warned that the humanitarian situation “is about to get a lot worse in a city packed with refugees with nowhere to run.”
The city is under daily bombardment, he said in a video statement released on Sunday, urging global action.
“If the world stands by and continues to do nothing, the devastation you are seeing in Eastern Ghouta today, will be Afrin city tomorrow,” said Janson.
He made an appeal to global powers: “We ask the world for two things: an immediate no-fly zone over Afrin to end the bombing and destruction of civilian lives, and we ask you to end your collaboration and tacit support for Erdogan’s crimes against humanity. Stop selling Turkey the weapons it is now using on the people of Afrin.”
Stressing that Afrin is a peaceful place where peoples of all ethnicities and faiths live together, Janson also addressed the Turkish people, telling them, “Don’t believe the lies of your corrupt leadership. The people of Afrin want peace.”
Ankara considers the YPG and the ruling political party in Rojava, the PYD, branches of the PKK, a named terror organization and has framed its Operation Olive Branch in Afrin as a counter-terror offensive.
Turkey claims that their operation is also against ISIS.
“It is not only the PKK that is being removed from the area but also ISIS,” Turkey’s Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar said on Monday, Hurriyet Daily News reported.
There have been no independent, confirmed reports of ISIS in Afrin.
The YPG, in turn, have accused Turkey of forming an alliance with a “resurgent Islamic State,” in its backing of Syrian militias on the ground.