Hundreds of civilians fled the violence of ongoing battles in the Tel Abyad countryside between Islamic State (IS) forces and the combined Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Kurdish People’s Protection Units [YPG] in A-Raqqa province, and after a 24-hour wait were allowed in to Turkey, UK-based al-Araby al-Jadeed reported.
While it was not immediately clear what caused the closure to the fleeing villagers, Turkish authorities closed two border crossing in the neighboring Aleppo province this past March, citing security concerns.
Images published online by the Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently media campaign (RBSS) Tuesday showed the anxiety and tedium of the civilians’ long ordeal.
“The situation is bad here. There is not much food, and nowhere for us to seek refuge,” one villager told local Kurdish journalist Baz Ali during the long ordeal, Ali told Syria Direct on Wednesday hours before the Turks reopened the border.
Meanwhile, activists from RBSS told Syria Direct that “pressure on the border due to the [Turkish parliamentary] elections” was the cause of the delay.
Turkish media did not comment on the closure of the crossing.
Owing to its border location, the city of Tel Abyad is a key stopping point for weapons, goods and fighters entering Syria from Turkey. IS fighters overran it last summer, with FSA and YPG units forming the Euphrates Volcano joint operations room last fall to drive IS from positions in A-Raqqa province. The Kurdish-rebel forces captured several villages in the province on Tuesday, Syria Direct reported.
“[The villages] are the main entrance into Tel Abyad and their capture opens a path for the joint forces to reach A-Raqqa city,” Hamud al-Hamza, an activist with RBSS told Syria Direct on Wednesday.
Amidst fierce fighting, civilians in the Tel Abyad countryside find themselves trapped on multiple fronts.
Tal Abyad is essentially a prison under Islamic State, with civilians unable to flee north to Turkey or south to A-Raqqa city, pro-opposition Qasion News Agency reported on Tuesday, while Turkish border authorities increasingly restrict passage into Turkey except in cases of extreme need.
Turkey currently hosts more Syrian refugees than any other country in the region, with the UNHCR estimating at least 1.8 million registered since the beginning of the war four years ago.
However, after years of a relatively open border policy, Syrian refugees have reported an uptick in violence at the hands of Turkish border guards, with allegations of civilians killed and injured during crossing attempts.
Photo courtesy of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently