Fighting among Turkey-backed Syrian rebel groups in the Turkish-controlled city of Afrin in northern Syria left several civilians dead Thursday, including two children, according to war monitors.
Fierce clashes between the Hamzat Division and the Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam factions erupted Thursday, said the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Three civilians, including two children, were killed in the gunfire, the monitoring group said.
Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow in the Middle East Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, wrote on Twitter that the fighting started after a group of fighters from the Hamzat Division walked into a shop run by a man displaced from Syria’s southwestern Ghouta region.
“They asked to purchase something for 300 lira [$0.16] on credit. The owner of the shop refused. In response, the Hamzat shot up the place & tossed a grenade, killing the shop owner and his son,” she wrote.
Afrin has been in the hands of Syrian fighters trained and equipped by Turkey since March 2018, when the Free Syrian Army captured the city from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Turkey considers an offshoot of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party.
Human rights groups have since documented the wide-scale persecution of locals by Turkish proxies, including forced conversions among the Yazidi religious minority.
“The current situation for Yazidis remaining in the Afrin is dire as they are forced to hide their identity, unable to practice their faith, and remain frightened for their safety,” the Yazidi advocacy group Yazda said in a statement today.
Yazidi activist and Nobel laureate Nadia Murad accused Turkey and its affiliated rebel groups of an ethnic cleansing campaign in Afrin.
“They are kidnapping women, killing civilians, and destroying houses and shrines,” she said on Twitter. “To date, the international community has failed to bring attention to these crimes.”
Turkey denies war crimes were committed by its proxies.
Afrin was also the site of a deadly truck bombing last month. The YPG denied responsibility after Turkey accused the militia of carrying out the attack that killed more than 50 people.