As Turkey draws near, Syria’s Afrin braces for siege, tough fight

AFRIN: With Turkish-led forces nearly surrounding Syria’s Afrin city, some panicked residents are attempting to flee, others are stocking food fearing a siege, and Kurdish fighters are digging in for a tough fight. Since January 20, Ankara and allied Syrian rebels have pressed an air and ground offensive that has brought them to the edges of Afrin, held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Already overwhelmed by an influx of displaced families that has strained water and electricity networks, residents of Afrin are bracing for what’s next.
“We’re afraid of what will happen if the Turks enter Afrin,” says Almas Bakr, 23, who took refuge in the city from a heavily shelled border area.
“Our hearts are crying — Afrin doesn’t deserve this.”
The urban centre is now home to around 350,000 people, after its population swelled with thousands fleeing their homes since the start of the assault.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he hopes the city will be encircled within hours.
The single road linking it to the rest of the northwestern region of the same name is coming under heavy fire.
Hundreds have tried to flee, with cars and buses piled high with rugs, crates, and suitcases lining up to leave the town — to no avail. Inside, people are rushing to purchase non-perishable food, preparing for the possibility of a Turkish siege of the city.
Water has already been cut for more than a week and electricity shortages have been rampant since pro-Ankara forces took control of a nearby dam that provides some hydroelectric power to the town.
Women with plastic jerrycans could be seen gathering on one Afrin thoroughfare this week to fill them from a water truck.
The United Nations’ humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) warned on Tuesday that residents are relying on six boreholes whose unchlorinated water is putting civilians at risk of contracting waterborne diseases.
Desperate to gather more food for her family, Midiya Mohammad, 20, ventures out of a cellar where she has been taking shelter.
“We have stocked up on rice, sugar, tinned food, baby milk and medicines,” says the young woman, who escaped the battered town of Jandairis, which has since been captured by Turkish forces. “We’re preparing ourselves” for a possible siege, says Mohammad.
The city has struggled to cope with the influx of displaced families, who have taken shelter in basements, unfinished buildings, and even vans and trucks. Sultana, 57, is living with several other families in a building under construction, without water or electricity.
“They took our homes and destroyed them,” says the displaced woman from the area of Rajo, to the northwest.
“What else do they want to take? Our chickens? Our children’s diapers?”
Only one UN convoy has entered Afrin since the assault began, distributing aid to 50,000 people in early March. — AFP