BEIRUT - Turkish troops and allied Syrian opposition fighters have begun a siege of the Syrian Kurdish-held town of Afrin, the Turkish military said Tuesday, marking a significant advance in Ankara’s seven-week operation that also almost fully encircles hundreds of thousands of civilians.
The military said in a brief statement that the siege of Afrin, the main town in the enclave of the same name, had begun on Monday. It said the military took control of “critical areas” of the town but did not provide details.
Thousands of people fled Afrin on Monday as the Turkish troops got closer to the town, heading toward nearby areas controlled by the Syrian government. Syria’s Al-Ikhbariya TV showed vehicles and trucks loaded with civilians leaving the town.
Residents reported that some relatives came under fire as they attempted to use the road out of the enclave. Panic spread among civilians as the Turkish-backed forces approach the town that now houses hundreds of thousands, including those displaced from earlier fighting. There was no water after Turkish forces seized control of the local dam, and residents say they have relied on water wells for their consumption.
“As my relatives tried to get out of Afrin yesterday, they got fired at. They are ok. Thank God,” said 32-year-old Azad Mohamed, who said he is staying in his house for now.
Mohammed said he can’t decide whether to take his two children out of Afrin and risk them getting fired at or stay in the town as Turkish forces are now at its entrance from the east.
“I spend most of the time standing up, I swear to God, like a madman. Every time I sit down for two minutes, I get up again and start pacing to ease the tension,” he told The Associated Press in a series of text messages from the town. “Every time I think they are closer, and I think of my wife and kids and parents. I am afraid and I feel like there is a volcano in my belly.”
Turkey launched a military offensive into the border enclave on Jan. 20 to drive out Syrian Kurdish forces that it considers to be “terrorists” and an extension of Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey.