Syria: fighting between rebels in Afrin kills a child
Clashes between rebel groups in Syria’s Africa on Thursday left at least two deaths, including a child, and undermined security in Turkey’s northwestern city.
An African medical source reported to the Middle East Eye that six other people were injured. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activists, which relies on various sources on the ground, said seven people have been killed in the fighting in the meantime.
The gunfight pitted Hamza rebels against their former allies belonging to the factions Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham, who had been displaced in the area after withdrawing from eastern Ghouta in 2018.
All the fighters involved are part of the Syrian national army rebel umbrella group backed by Turkey.
After lengthy clashes, Ghouta fighters took control of the Afrin headquarters of the Hamza division and set it on fire.
Once the fight ended, they roamed the streets, shooting at random and singing through eastern Ghouta, the area they lost to the Syrian government after years of conflict.
The clashes started, according to activists, after members of the Hamza division threw a grenade into a grocery store run by a displaced Ghouta man who refused to put items on a tab. When the Ghouta fighters came to defend the shopkeeper, the events intensified.
Activists called Muath Hussein al-Abdullah, the murdered child, from the village of Khayara in Idlib province, east of Maarat al-Numan. He was eating at a table with his family when he was hit by a stray bullet, activists said.
On Friday, the angry Syrians of Ghouta gathered outside the headquarters of the Turkish authorities in the city, protesting against the conditions in which they live.
In an official statement, the Hamza Division said it would open an official investigation, handing over those involved to the local military police and sending them to the judiciary to receive their punishment.
The Hamza division is made up of displaced fighters, mainly from the city of Aleppo and its countryside. The group was a small brigade founded in 2013 south of Hassakeh, which then merged in 2015 with four other brigades.
He has since been trained and equipped by the United States and Turkey under the Syrian Train and Equip program to combat the Islamic State (IS) group in northwestern Syria.
He participated in all Turkish military operations in Syria and was one of the battalions that expelled the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) militia from Afrin in 2018.
Shortly after Afrin was taken, Ghouta fighters began to arrive, some led by the Al-Rahman Legion, others by Jaysh al-Islam.
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The two factions of Ghouta have been in conflict since 2016 and occasional clashes between them in the Damascus countryside have seen hundreds of dead and injured.
Their leaders have reconciled since their expulsion,
With rebel factions living in tension next to each other – often fighting over the spoils or homes left behind by the Kurdish population expelled in the 2018 assault led by Turkey – Afrin’s security has been precarious.
Meanwhile, the city has been hit by occasional Kurdish militant bomb attacks.
In an effort to maintain stability, Afrin is divided administratively into sectors controlled by each rebel faction, many of which tax the local population.
A military police force from all rebel groups has also been established, but it is largely ineffective, with its commander who once found himself besieged alongside his forces during a previous blaze.
Turkey-backed civilian police have also been deployed in the city, but so far its role has been limited to managing certain checkpoints and resolving civilian conflicts. His commander was detained for one month on corruption charges.
Weapons are widespread in the city. Many civilians and rebels withdrawn from the fighting carry weapons to defend themselves and there are many shops selling all types of weapons. The sound of gunfire is common.
“Indiscriminate weapons must be withdrawn and the committees charged with monitoring the sales of arms stores,” suggested Maysa al-Hamoud, a displaced activist from the city of Aleppo, who lives in Afrin.
“The city must be handed over to a civilian authority and the civilian and military police must take on their role effectively,” Hamoud told MEE.
“We live in real terror during the clashes, which leads to chronic anxiety and psychological pressure.”
‘I have a two year old boy. I’m helpless in front of him when he hides under the bed scared by the sound of gunshots’
– Ameer Hurputlu, activist
An activist displaced from eastern Ghouta, Ameer Hurputlu, moved from his home on the main road into central Afrin and rented another in the alleys, fearing loose bullets.
“During each engagement, random checkpoints spread and tension prevails for days, leading to the destruction of civilian work,” Hurputlu told MEE.
“I have a two year old boy. I am helpless in front of him when he hides under the bed scared by the sound of gunfire,” he added.
“Living in a small space safely has become everyone’s dream.”