Saturday 18 November 2017

'Thousands are fleeing, fear and chaos reign, of course they want to get rid of Isil, but not this way'

A Kurdish Syrian refugee carries an infant after crossing the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province. Reuters
A Kurdish Syrian refugee carries an infant after crossing the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province. Reuters
Kurdish Syrian refugees sit with their belongings after crossing the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province. Reuters
Turkish and Syrian Kurds run as Turkish security forces use tear gas to disperse them near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border, near the southeastern town of Suruc. Reuters
Turkish and Syrian Kurds pull down a part of the Turkish-Syrian border fence, near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province. Reuters
A still image taken from video shows Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron addressing the House of Commons. Reuters
A child walks on the rubble of collapsed buildings at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by forces of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Aleppo's al-Sakhour district. Reuters
A pair of US F-15E Strike Eagle flies over northern Iraq, after conducting airstrikes in Syria. AP Photo

Isabel Hunter

As the bombs rain down panicked hordes of Syrians flee for their lives.

Kurds have been storming Isil strongholds, but fear and chaos hang in the air as if carried by the smoke.

Ahmad Ke, a 17-year-old student, left his parents behind in the Syrian Isil stronghold of Raqqa two days ago, by chance on the night of the first of the US air strikes on the city.

Now in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, he said he still speaks to his parents constantly, terrified they will be victims of the bombings.

"They want to leave for the regime-held part of Aleppo," he said, while taking a break from his new job at a popular Syrian canteen in Gaziantep. "But if Isil find out, they stop the buses and punish people for wanting to go there."

Ahmad was one of an estimated 150,000 Syrians who have fled Isil to Turkey in the last week. That number was expected to increase after another night of US-led air strikes which targeted oil refineries in Syria controlled by the militants.

Five civilians and 14 Isil fighters were killed in the east of the country, according to UK-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. But no one really knows the death toll.

Ahmad had to sneak out of Raqqa with his brother and former Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters. Taking a private minibus under the cover of darkness, he practiced his story to tell at Isil checkpoints.

"Driving through [the Isil-held city of] Al-Bab, the streets were empty and at the checkpoints you could see they were nervous.

"They were sure the Kurds would attack," he said.

Last night, the battle for the city of Kobane was critical. Smoke, gunfire and shelling could be seen and heard from the border as fighting moved even closer towards Turkey.

Kobane, a major Kurdish city on the Turkish border which shelters a population of at least 200,000, has been the scene of battles between Isil and fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG), bolstered by hundreds of Turkish Kurdish fighters and FSA battalions.

Despite the intensity of the battles, Ali Ziyadeh, a civilian from Kobane, said he was confident the forces fighting Isil were keeping them at bay.

According to those inside the Isil-controlled town of Jarabulus, just over a mile from the Turkish border, most of the militants have moved to the countryside, and to the front lines to join the offensive on Kobane. "Four buses took Isil members and their families out of Jarabulus on Tuesday," said Ahmad Al-Jader, a former FSA fighter from Jarabulus.

In the east of the country, civilians in Deir Ezzor, close to Isil areas, are too scared to venture outside for fear of being bombed.

The coalition air strikes overnight and in the early hours of yesterday hit three Isil-controlled oil refineries, a central base, a camp and a checkpoint.

"People don't know what's going on. A lot of them want to get rid of Isil, but not this way because they know what the US is here for and it's not to get rid of the regime," said Mr Al-Jader.

"One witness on the ground said there was not even a bolt left in the infrastructure of the refinery. It was completely destroyed."

The strikes have not been totally welcomed by the FSA.

They insist any international intervention in Syria should also target the Assad regime, said Abu Mohammad, head of the political office for Aleppo-based opposition armed group, Jaysh al-Mujahideen.

"Our rebel fighters will not accept to continue to fight Isil just to lose most of our strength so the regime can come and finish them off. If the US does not target the regime, we will not fight Isil on the ground," Mr Mohammad said yesterday.

The group was among the first to start fighting Isil at the beginning of this year, but have become desperate for weapons and ammunition.

"We would have signed anything they [the US] want… We'd even change our name if that makes a difference. We just need help to fight both Assad and Isil," said Mr Mohammad.

(©Independent News Service)

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