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Intra-Kurdish tensions paralyze northeast Syria’s main border crossing

Northeast Syria’s only external border crossing closed abruptly May 17 for an unknown period, disrupting trade, medical corridors and humanitarian access to the area.
Passengers, who were stranded following the border closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, wait to cross into Iraqi Kurdistan from the Syrian side of the Semalka border crossing in northeast Syria, July 29, 2020.

QAMISHLI — Iraqi Kurdish authorities closed their only border crossing with Syria on Wednesday, disrupting trade, travel, medical trips and diplomatic visits in and out of northeast Syria. The sudden closure also prompted many humanitarian organizations to withdraw their international staff from the region.

“The closure of the crossing didn’t just impact my family, but many others as well,” Abd al-Ghani Hassan Elias told Al-Monitor from his home in the city of Qamishli, northeast Syria. Scattered around the world for many years by war, Elias’ family had planned to reunite at last in June. For the first time since their mother died two years ago during the coronvirus pandemic, two of Elias’ siblings would have been able to visit her grave and pray over it.

But after authorities in charge of the Fishkhabour-Semalka crossing announced it would close for an undisclosed period, Elias gave up on his hope to spend Eid al-Adha with his family. His elderly sister returned to Iraqi Kurdistan to avoid getting stuck in Syria and his brother canceled his visit.

“It would have been the first Eid we spend together as a family since our mother died,” Elias said. “The closure of the border really impacted us — morally and financially. My sister lost 2,500 to 3,000 euros [around $2,700 to $3,200] in travel costs.”

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