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Hundreds of thousands flee Afrin as rebels sack the city

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Damascus (AsiaNews / Agencies) – Syrian rebel groups – including radical Islamic movements – that supported the Turkish army in the conquest of Afrin [Kurdish enclave in the north of Syria on March 17] are looting and sacking the population of the area.

According to local sources, shops, homes, military and government facilities have been raided and expropriated. Meanwhile, the Ankara offensive in the region continues: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the military campaign will be extended to all the border areas in the eastern sector of the country.

In a speech held yesterday in the capital to celebrate the “victory”, the Turkish leader stressed that “the military operation [renamed olive branch] will go on until the corridor [Kurdish] connecting Manbij, Kobane, Tal Abyad, Ras al-Ain, Qamishli is swept away”.

For Erdogan, the fall of Afrin is the milestone in the fight against the Kurdish militias Ypg (People’s Protection Unit), which he considers linked to the Kurdish “terrorist” groups of the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party), protagonists of a decade-long struggle for ‘independence.

YPG leaders deny any management and organizational contact with the PKK. And in these years, together with the Arab fighting groups, they turned out to be a fundamental in the Syrian chessboard – especially for the United States – in the fight against the Islamic State (IS, ex Isis). Local sources report that most of the Kurdish fighters left the area, along with the majority of the 220 thousand civilians who lived in the city before its fall.

Afrin Eyewitnesses say that during these hours, fighting groups broke into shops, restaurants and homes, stealing food, electronic equipment, blankets and other basic necessities. The stolen material was transported outside the city. “The destruction of the statue of Kawa Haddad – says a local Kurd – the thefts in shops and homes is morally deplorable”.

Analysts and experts say that Turkey has attacked with the intention of making a demographic change in the area, putting the Kurds in the minority. Ankara rejects this accusation, but the fears remain about the future of the region linked to the permanent presence of Arabs and Turks that the Kurds will certainly not be willing to accept.

The United Nations report that at the moment there are still about 100 thousand people in the Afrin region, a sharp decline compared to 323 thousand in November. At least 98,000 are registered as displaced in reception centers in the territories controlled by the Syrian government. At least 289 civilians were killed in the battle of Afrin, including 43 children.

The assault and the taking of the Kurdish city was consummated amid the deafening silence and disinterest of the international community, particularly of Europe and NATO, under US leadership.

Analysts and experts recall how the Kurds have long been exploited in the anti-Isis operations, only to be abandoned. Brussels is more interested in border security and sees Erdogan as a key “ally” in containing the migration phenomenon and in a broader discussion of international geopolitics.

Instead the United States, which has long armed the Kurds, have done nothing to prevent the Turks’ advance. Commenting on the plunder of Afrin, the US government expressed a generic feeling of “deep concern”. (DS)

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