A look at what’s going on in eastern Syria

Tens of thousands in Hasakah province are already displaced by Erdogan’s freshly launched Operation Spring of Peace.

al-monitor Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, as seen from the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, Turkey, Oct. 10, 2019.  Photo by REUTERS/Murad Sezer.

Oct 11, 2019

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Oct. 9 the launch of the Turkish military operation in the Kurdish region east of the Euphrates River in Syria. The Turkish army codenamed the operation Spring of Peace.

Ankara’s government launched airstrikes and artillery in the area, leaving thousands of displaced people from the towns of Tell Abyad and Ras al-Ain (Sri Canet). The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has estimated that some 60,000 civilians have fled since the operation began.

Erdogan did not name this operation randomly. Ras al-Ain is a city famous for its many springs. The Turkish government called its Afrin operation in January 2018 Operation Olive Branch since Afrin was known for its olive trees.

Al-Monitor met with a number of displaced people in Ras al-Ain who fled the heavy artillery and aerial bombardment of their city and its surroundings to Hasakah.

Salma Abdallah, 45, and her children from Ras al-Ain spent their first night in Hasakah with a local civil society organization. “We ran out as Turkish planes hovered over us,” she told Al-Monitor. “It was terrifying. We managed to grab some important personal papers. We left a whole house behind us and got out of the city.”

She continued, “Displaced people were lined up along the Hasakah road in Ras al-Ain trying to reach safer points across the farmland. Some were carrying a sick parent, others a person with a disability.”

Thousands of civilians in Ras al-Ain spent the night of Oct. 9 in the open after fleeing the heavy Turkish shelling of the city's villages and center.

The displaced residents were forced to take the Hasakah road as the Turkish shelling on the road to the town of Darbasiya obliged many of them to return to Hasakah.

Among the displaced civilians were Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen and Armenian families, all of whom left the city of Ras al-Ain — which turned into a ghost town. According to unofficial estimates, the city had a population of around 100,000 people. 

Many civilians have been forced to take agricultural and village roads to reach a safe place amid the lack of civilian vehicles they can use. Another displaced civilian spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity and said, “These circumstances bring back memories of the start of the Syrian revolution, when Islamic factions, including Jabhat al-Nusra, attacked the city, displaced tens of thousands of people and looted civilian homes.”

He added, “But we will try as much as possible to stay within Hasakah province. Hard days are ahead, but we will strive hard to stay in Syria. We hope to return soon to our city.”

A civilian was killed and two others were seriously injured in a Turkish airstrike Oct. 9 targeting civilian homes in the village of Mishrafa, west of Ras al-Ain. More than 15 civilians have been killed so far as of the time of this writing in Turkish artillery shelling on the Kurdish cities and towns in Syria.

“The shelling started indiscriminately on [Ras al-Ain],” said Akram Sheikh Hamo, who fled with his family to Hasakah. “We ran away with our children and women from the intensity of arbitrary shelling that made no difference between civilians and military targets,” he told Al-Monitor. “We will wait in Hasakah. We have no possibility of getting out of Syria. We hope we don’t get displaced from here as well. We do not want the shelling to follow us here,” he added.

The cities of Qamishli, Derek, Amuda and Tirbespi had also witnessed similar artillery and air attacks, part of which targeted civilian homes in city centers and in some border villages. A number of civilians — unidentified as of yet — died in the shelling.

GAV for Relief and Development operating in the city of Hasakah provided to Al-Monitor the initial numbers of internally displaced people who fled Turkish shelling on the border area.

The relief organization documented the displacement of 35,000 civilians from Ras al-Ain to Hasakah and the annexed town of Tal Tamr. It also documented the displacement of 1,000 civilians from Darbasiya to Hasakah city and Kurdish annexed villages.

GAV's monitoring center further noted the displacement of 10,000 civilians from Tell Abyad to Ain Issa, the capital of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, and the center of Raqqa.

In coordination with a number of local organizations operating in northeast Syria, GAV established an emergency team to address the Turkish offensive risks on border cities and mitigate their impact on civilians. 

Al-Monitor spoke with Ayaz Mohammad Ali, program director at GAV, about the initial measures taken by the organization to shelter the displaced from Ras al-Ain.

He said, “Schools across Hasakah were opened in coordination with civil society organizations and the Office of Organizations Affairs and Education Authority affiliated with the [autonomous] administration to host displaced people. These schools will be filled successively in order to organize the displacement and have accurate monitoring of the number of displaced people.”

On the side roads of the cities and towns of Syria's Kurdish region, hundreds of thousands of civilians await their fate while the heavy air, ground and artillery offensive by Turkish and allied forces rages on.

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