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article imageHit in Turkish shelling, Syria Kurds dig in their heels

By Ahmad Bilal (AFP)     Jan 25, 2018 in World

His house was damaged by Turkish bombardment and most neighbours have fled, but elderly Abu Jiwan says he refuses to abandon his northern Syrian hometown as long as he's still breathing.

With a traditional red-and-white Kurdish shawl wrapped around his head, the 70-year-old gestured towards his home in the town of Jandairis, freshly hit by Turkish shelling.

"I won't leave Jandairis as long as I'm alive," he said in Kurdish.

"Where would I go? There are no roads. We don't have diesel or a car. Where can we go when all the roads around us are cut?"

Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels are waging an offensive against Afrin, an enclave in northern Syria controlled by Kurdish militia.

Turkish tanks are parked near the border with Syria on January 24  2018
Turkish tanks are parked near the border with Syria on January 24, 2018
OZAN KOSE, AFP

For nearly a week, Turkey has launched air strikes, rockets and artillery fire at Afrin in a bid to oust the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).

Jandairis, a town in the district's southwestern corner, has been heavily targeted by Turkish air strikes and rockets as it sits close to the border and near a front line with pro-Ankara rebels.

Bombing on Wednesday battered Jandairis, leaving Abu Jiwan's home and his farming tractor in ruins.

"God help us. God be kind to us," he said, shaking his head.

- 'We are all with you' -

Rubble is piled up in many of Jandairis's streets and the town's petrol station has been bombed out of service.

A man gestures while holding a rifle in the Syrian Kurdish town of Jandairis on January 24  2018
A man gestures while holding a rifle in the Syrian Kurdish town of Jandairis on January 24, 2018
Ahmad SHAFIA BILAL, AFP

The United Nations said it has received reports that around 5,000 people have been displaced by the ongoing offensive, mostly within the enclave.

Most of Jandairis's residents have sought refuge elsewhere, but those that could not find a way out are taking cover from Turkish bombing however they can.

A journalist contributing to AFP saw more than two dozen people, including children, waiting out the shelling in a dimly lit cellar.

The steady boom of artillery shook the town.

The entrance to Jandairis is marked with posters of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The town of Afrin in northern Syria is the focus of Turkey's operation 'Olive Branch'...
The town of Afrin in northern Syria is the focus of Turkey's operation 'Olive Branch' against the YPG
Ahmad SHAFIA BILAL, AFP/File

Ankara says the YPG is the Syrian branch of the PKK, which has waged a three-decade insurgency inside Turkey.

The Turkish army and allied Syrian fighters have kept up their assault despite global calls to de-escalate -- and Syrian Kurds have dug in their heels.

The yellow-and-green flags of the YPG are now hung all over the central town of Afrin and surrounding villages.

"We are all with you!" read banners in support of the Kurdish force.

- 'We won't leave' -

Kurdish officials have accused Turkey of trying to depopulate the Afrin region with a fierce bombing campaign.

"We can hold our heads up high. We're never going to leave," said a grocer in Jandairis who declined to give his name.

The man in his 40s accused Erdogan of targeting civilians in Afrin.

"He said he wouldn't target civilians, and today he targets them out of weakness," he said.

"I hope he knows that as long as we're alive, this land is ours. We won't leave. We're staying."

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital in Afrin in northern Syria on January 23  2018
An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital in Afrin in northern Syria on January 23, 2018
Ahmad SHAFIA BILAL, AFP/File

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, Turkish and allied rebel fire has killed 30 civilians in Afrin, with YPG fire killing two civilians in a nearby zone.

The Turkish army insists that everything is being done to prevent civilian casualties.

"In the planning and execution of the operation only terrorists and their shelters, positions and weapons are being targeted. Every caution and sensitivity is being shown to prevent harm to civilian and innocent people," it said.

On Tuesday, Syrian Kurdish leaders called on civilians across Afrin to take up arms to defend the enclave against Turkey's "Olive Branch" operation.

"We'll fight, and we won't ever leave Jandairis. We are righteous, and we have a cause," said Jano, a lawyer in a black suit and green shirt.

He snapped photos of his destroyed neighbourhood on his smart phone.

"No force will be able to kick us off our land."

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