Oxfam: Thousands trapped in Afrin need immediate access to humanitarian relief

Civilians live in a cave in Syria's predominantly Kurdish northwest region of Afrin after fleeing Turkish airstrikes and mortar shells. (Photo: Kurdistan24)

Thousands of refugees and residents in the Afrin region of Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) are in desperate need of proper medical and humanitarian services, Oxfam has warned on Monday. In an official press release, Oxfam, an international confederation of charitable organizations, has highlighted the severe humanitarian condition of civilians “suffering from daily attacks” in Afrin.

Oxfam called for “safe access for humanitarian relief” as recent fighting in the area has left over 140 people dead and hundreds more injured. “The latest surge in the violence opens a terrifying new chapter in the lives of people of Afrin, many of whom fled to this region to escape fighting in other parts of Syria,” Oxfam’s Country Director in Syria Moutaz Adham said.

“Thousands of people, including babies, young children, pregnant women and the elderly, are now trapped, facing a terrifying and potentially deadly situation,” he added.

The humanitarian agency urged “warring parties” to allow innocent people caught in the cross-fire a chance “to safely escape the violence.”

Meanwhile, according to a report by Kurdistan24 on Monday, the Turkish military has shelled several villages in Syria’s Kurdish-run northwest region of Afrin, destroying schools and mosques, civilians there said on Monday.

In a village called Jeleme in the countryside of Afrin, civilians told Kurdistan24 a Turkish military airstrike destroyed a school in their village. “There is random shelling and bombardment every day, although we are all civilians here,” said a villager. “There is nothing military here.” Only a few houses were left standing in the village which people are now using as shelters.

In Jandaris town west of Afrin, near the Turkish border, civilians told Kurdistan24 that an airstrike destroyed a mosque in the town. People in the town confirmed that there are only civilians there, but it is shelled every day. “There is nothing military here,” said a roughly 25-year-old man. He pointed to a neighborhood that was recently bombarded. “The neighborhood over there was struck yesterday, four houses were entirely destroyed, and all the people there and livestock were killed,” he said.

Iran urged Turkey on Monday to stop its military offensive in Syria, saying the operation in the northern Afrin region breached Syrian sovereignty and would increase tension in the war-damaged country. “Turkey should stop its operation and respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.  “Turkey’s actions can bring back insecurity, instability and terrorism to Syria,” he added.

Qasemi said any solution to the Syrian crisis should be discussed in talks in the Kazakh capital Astana that are sponsored by Russia, Iran, and Turkey. He said Iran was in continuous talks with both Turkey and Russia about the latest developments in Syria. The Syrian government last week called the Turkish offensive in Afrin an illegal “aggression” and said it would deal with it accordingly.

Meanwhile, Turkish forces and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) on Monday captured another village from PYD/PKK in Afrin. According to an Anadolu Agency correspondent based in the region, Dikmetas village in the town of Sharan and Mount Sirghaya were both cleared of Kurdish militants.

Also on Monday, 1 civilian lost his life to a PYD/PKK attack in northern Syria’s Azaz district, east of Afrin region, where an operation by Turkish military is underway. The rocket attack launched from Afrin also injured five other civilians. Three of them are being treated for serious injuries at a hospital.

The attack on Afrin is now in its third week as dozens of civilians, including children and women, were reported to have been killed by Turkish air raids and shelling. Turkish warplanes began striking the Kurdish city of Afrin on Jan. 20 with ground troops entering the region as well.

The campaign named “Operation Olive Branch” by Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is meant to clear Syria’s Kurdish-held northwest district of People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters who Turkey claims are an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Ankara has labeled the US-backed Kurdish forces a “terrorist organization” and has been infuriated by Washington’s support for the YPG.

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