At least 20 people were killed in a series of deadly bombings on Saturday and Sunday when three bombs went off in an area of northwestern Syria under the nominal control of Turkey.
The incident have raised alarm bells in Ankara, which blamed Kurdish rebels for the attacks in a corner of the country that Turkey has established as a supposed safe haven for Syrians escaping the country’s smouldering civil war and the wrath of the country’s ruler, Bashar al-Assad.
At least one child was among the dead, according to rescue workers and local media as footage from the attacks showed images of bloodied children and panicked pedestrians rushing through smoke-filled streets to rescue the injured.
“All the bombings target the civilian gathering sites, in the green market, in front of bakeries and in the neighbourhoods,” one resident of the city of Afrin said in an online exchange. “Life here has become horrific with bombings, arrests and high prices.”
Many of those living in northwest Syria have already suffered through a decade of civil conflict, often displaced repeatedly before they wound up in war-ravaged towns with few public services.
“These people faced evacuation and were forced to leave their cities and live in tents and refugee camps,” said Navvar Şaban, a Syria expert at the Omraan Institute, a think tank in Istanbul. “Then they faced COVID-19, and now this.”
A truck laden with explosives struck in an industrial area of the city of Afrin on Saturday, killing at least eight civilians.
Two more bombs went off on Sunday: one near the centre of the border town Azaz, killing six civilians; and the other at a checkpoint near al-Bab, another town near the Turkish frontier, killing six members of the Ankara-backed Syrian military forces.
Experts say the spike in violence was the worst since a bloody month of attacks in enclaves under de facto Turkish authority in July 2019.
The attacks are a reminder of the explosive undercurrents that continue to pulsate in northern Syria, a hodgepodge of rival armed groups backed by foreign powers including Turkey, Russia, the United States and Iran.
The areas targeted include those previously claimed as part of an enclave previously controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which Ankara considers a front for its longtime enemies the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is listed by Turkey, the European Union, and the US as a terrorist organisation.
The SDF, which cooperates with the western armed forces in an effort to keep Isis extremists at bay, accuses Ankara of being an occupying force and carrying out indiscriminate attacks on Kurdish civilians in the area.
But experts note that many of the attacks appear to be coming from areas of the country under the control of the Syrian Kurds and their armed forces and that the attacks appear to systematically target districts of the country that the SDF and its political leadership claim as part of a Syrian Kurdish homeland. The SDF has denied they are behind the bombings.
Experts say the attacks are meant to drive a wedge between the Turkish-backed authorities and the local population, sowing mistrust and confusion that insurgents can exploit in a long-term effort to drive Ankara from the country. (Source: The Independent)