Fear in Syria’s Azaz as threat of conflict rises again | Syria war news

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Omair al-Najjar had only been married for nine days when the missile exploded in the center of Azaz on Tuesday.

The 22-year-old was one of the five civilians who died in the attack on the Syrian opposition town in northern Aleppo province.

Al Jazeera was unable to verify who fired the missiles, but the Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets, said the missiles had been fired from areas controlled by the Syrian government and the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

“He moved to Azaz because it was a safe zone, away from the attacks of the Syrian regime and Russia,” one of al-Najjar’s family members, who did not want to be named, told Al Jazeera. Al-Najjar had left his hometown of Kafarouma, near Maarat al-Numan, in late 2019 as Syrian government forces advanced on the town before eventually taking control of it in early 2020.

He eventually found work in a clothing store in Azaz’s town center – where he was eventually killed.

Tuesday’s attack came after days of Turkish airstrikes against the predominantly Kurdish YPG, or People’s Protection Units, as well as YPG rocket attacks on Turkey and opposition-held areas in Syria. Civilians on both sides have died in the attacks.

Turkey considers the YPG to be the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a designated “terrorist” group in Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The latest spike in violence came as Turkey threatened a new ground operation after November 13 bombing of Istanbul, which it blamed on the YPG and PKK despite their denials. There have been fears that the security situation in Azaz, which was previously a relatively safe area under Turkish protection, will worsen.

“I have survived death, but the smell of blood filled the place and I remembered the previous strikes that hit when I lived in Maarat al-Numan,” said Hassan al-Khatib, one of the survivors of Azaz- the attack that works. as a lawyer.

“I chose Azaz because it is a border area and it is safe as it is away from [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad and Russia,” al-Khatib said. “But the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are attacking populated areas, in addition to the increasing military escalation every day.”

Hassan al-Khatib stands in front of rubble
Hassan al-Khatib survived Tuesday’s attack on Azaz, but is now worried about the security situation in the city [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

“If Azaz, which we considered to be the safest place to live, is under attack, I don’t think any place is safe,” he added.

According to Firas Fahham, a Syrian researcher at the Istanbul-based Jusoor for Studies think tank, the attacks on Turkey indicated an escalation.

“The SDF’s targeting of Turkey is proof that the SDF takes the Turkish threats against them seriously,” said Fahham, who blamed the recent attacks on Turkish border areas on the SDF.

“It seems that the SDF fears that Turkey will respond to its threats and is trying to make it more expensive for Turkey [to carry out an operation] by putting pressure on it and attacking Turkish border areas in an attempt to influence the Turkish public and embarrass the Turkish government with presidential elections coming up,” Fahham added.

Despite Turkey’s previous and numerous threats to launch a military offensive against the SDF forces, Fahham believed that things may be different this time, due to Russia’s difficulties in Ukraine. Russia, along with Western countries and Iran, has repeatedly warned against a new Turkish ground offensive against the SDF.

Syrian opposition forces, including the Syrian National Army, have said they are ready to participate in any future Turkish military operation against the SDF.

“Our forces previously conducted intense training in preparation for a new military operation that was postponed for various reasons,” said Al-Farouk Abubakr, a commander in the Syrian National Army (SNA).

“The increase in SNA readiness has coincided with the preparations of the Turkish army and the Turkish president’s statements about the possibility of ground forces participating … in an operation,” Abubakr added.

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