Two days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a plan for a military operation, the Turkish pro-government Yeni Safak reported on Wednesday that preparations have been made for a military maneuver aimed at expanding the “safe zones” already established in northern Syria, with several identified goals.
The newspaper reported that among the possible targets of the Turkish army and the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army are the towns of Tal Rifaat, Kobani, Ain Issan, and Manbij.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Friday that the Turkish forces and their loyal factions fired artillery shells.
On May 24, the observatory also reported that the Turkish army was shelling the villages of al-Wardia, Umm al-Hosh, Umm al-Qura, al-Malikiyah and Ain Daqna, within the areas of the Kurdish forces and the Syrian government, north of Aleppo, with no mention of the scale of destruction and losses.
Al-Monitor was present in the city of Manbij northeast of Aleppo where residents raised concerns of a possible full-on offensive.
Tai Sobeih, a pseudonym, spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal from the Turkish army.
Commenting on the current situation in the city, he said, “People fear an imminent Turkish military operation that could cause displacement. People are already living in dire economic situations.”
“With Erdogan’s recent statements, we are readying ourselves for displacement, but we really do not know where to flee. Our relatives from Afrin and the areas that were attacked and occupied by Turkey fled to us and started anew in our area,” the source added.
He went on to say, “It is definitely not the same life they led in Afrin, but at least they settled down here and are trying to live normal lives. Undoubtedly, the war on Ukraine affected us economically, as is the case for many countries. But in case of a military operation, the situation will be catastrophic because we do not know where to go.”
“One thing is for sure though. We will not stay here should the Turkish forces and thugs take the city,” Sobeih said.
When asked whom he was referring to as thugs, he said the members of the so-called national army.
“Our relatives in Afrin told us that these thugs arrested people and raped women,” he said.
“We do not want to face the same fate as Afrin, and we certainly do not want to see our women suffer the tragedies. We won’t seek refuge in the regime-held areas as they are not any better,” he added.
Sobeih also said, “Two days ago, we heard in the middle of the night distant shelling, but it wasn’t as usual. I told my wife and my mother to prepare themselves and the children, fearing that the operation had started indeed.”
Hassan Abdo was a resident of Afrin who fled with his family to the nearby Rajwa area in 2018 in the aftermath of the Turkish military offensive in the city.
“On that fateful day, Syrian militias accompanied by Turkish forces stormed our town after random and indiscriminate air and ground shelling that lasted for hours. In the neighborhood where we used to live in Afrin, we did not have anyone belonging to the Syrian Democratic Forces. Only civilians lived there. Most of my relatives were injured,” Abdo said.
“As we fled our homes, the militias viciously stormed a neighboring house and burned it down. It belonged to an old lady and her old husband. They burned it because they saw some paintings and drawings with Kurdish language letters and claimed it belonged to the PKK,” he added.
“They also forced my father to build barriers inside the neighborhood, and every day they used to break into a house under the pretext that it belonged to the PKK, but all they actually did was loot. They burned many houses,” Abdo said.
He added, “We, our relatives and people of the neighborhood, all of whom were civilians, were the most affected. Before the Turkish operations, all the military headquarters were stationed on the city’s outskirts. The city belonged to us, civilians. And they were well aware of this.”
Commenting on the news of an imminent Turkish operation, Abdo said, “I truly wish that we don’t see a new occupation, new killings and atrocities against our people in [Kobani] or Manbij or any other town, as happened to us [in Afrin].
“Today, certainly [we] do not live in peace, as they claim. The Turkish forces-backed militants commit violations on a daily basis in the city. They come for the displaced people who came from the eastern Ghouta areas, demanding them to pay rent for the houses, without any right to do so. These houses belong to the Kurds and not to them. Some people refused to pay and were forcibly evacuated. I witnessed a case firsthand,” he said.
“I think more violations and crimes will be committed. I certainly do not wish it for our people. All we wanted is freedom and not a Turkish occupation and more violations at the hands of a different aggressor,” he added.
Since the beginning of May, about 30 people have been killed and wounded in factional and clan fighting within the Operation Peace Spring areas, according to the Syrian Observatory.
The “safe areas” under the control of the Turkish army and the Syrian factions loyal to it, known as the national army factions, in the countryside of Aleppo have witnessed great security instability and major chaos.
Armed fighting, whether between factions or clans, remains sporadic, in addition to shelling and violations against the people of these areas who are suffering from theft, movement restrictions and arrests, among other violations.
On Tuesday, the United States warned Turkey against launching any new military offensive into northern Syria, stressing that such an escalation would put at risk regional stability and US forces deployed in the area.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that Washington was “deeply concerned” about reports of a potential increase in military activity in northern Syria.