‘YPG shelling’ hits northwestern Idlib displacement camp during Afrin battles: rebel spokesman

AMMAN: Artillery shells struck a displacement camp near the Syrian-Turkish border on Tuesday morning, killing an eight-year-old girl and injuring seven other civilians, in what camp sources alleged was an attack by a nearby Kurdish militia.

“Three shells” landed in a tent settlement for displaced Syrians near the rebel-held village of Atma along the Turkish border with northwestern, rebel-held Idlib province on Tuesday morning, Abu al-Layth, a camp administrator told Syria Direct via WhatsApp.

Atma is home to a collection of 54 camps spread along a five-kilometer strip of land along the border. Approximately 60,000 internally displaced Syrians live in the settlements.

Both camp administrator Abu al-Layth and a Free Syrian Army (FSA) spokesman near Atma who spoke to Syria Direct on Tuesday accused the nearby Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia of launching the shells from the Kurdish enclave of Afrin.

Abu al-Layth said Tuesday’s shells landed in the north of Atma camp, with one projectile punching a hole in the northeastern face of a cement dwelling. He believes that because of where the shell landed, “it clearly came from Kurdish-controlled territory.”

For his part, YPG spokesman Brosk Hasakah told Syria Direct that reports of Kurdish forces shelling Atma camp were “untrue,” and accused Turkish-backed rebel groups of responsibility for the shelling.

“These groups target civilians, and they want to cover up their [battlefield] losses by spreading these rumors,” Hasakah said.

The aftermath of shelling in Atma camp on Monday. Photo courtesy of Abu al-Layth.

The YPG is currently battling Turkish-backed FSA rebels in Afrin canton, two kilometers north of Atma. Ankara’s military and allied rebel forces attacked Afrin in mid-January within “Operation Olive Branch,” a campaign to oust the YPG from their territory in northwestern Syria.

Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organization because of its ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, with which Ankara has been embroiled in an internal conflict for decades.

The stated goal of Operation Olive Branch is to “eliminate terrorists” in the Kurdish-majority, de facto autonomous Afrin canton, Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency reported in January.

An FSA spokesman with a Turkish-backed brigade near Atma also accused the YPG of responsibility for the camp bombing, adding that “three-fourths of the camp’s residents are relatives of FSA fighters fighting in Olive Branch—it doesn’t make sense that we’d target them.”

On Monday afternoon, a statement issued by the Atma camp administration reported that eight-year-old Shaydra Hussein bint Khalil, a displaced person from Raqqa province, was killed by shrapnel from an artillery shell launched by “Kurdish parties.” Seven other residents were wounded, read the statement, which was posted on the Atma Hospital Facebook page on Tuesday.

One shell landed near a tent housing a displaced family from Raqqa, injuring several of camp resident Muhammad Abu Saleh’s neighbors, he told Syria Direct on Monday.

“The children who were injured live not far from my home,” Abu Saleh said. At the site of the shelling Abu Saleh saw “injured children with missing limbs,” he told Syria Direct.

During the past three weeks of battles in Afrin, the YPG have shelled civilian targets in Turkish territory, with 94 rockets killing seven Turkish civilians in the country’s south since January 21st, Turkish state media reported on Monday.

If confirmed, Tuesday morning’s shelling on Atma would be the first time YPG shelling has killed civilians in neighboring rebel-held territories in Syria since the beginning of Operation Olive Branch on January 20.

Artillery shells landed in Atma camp three times over the past two weeks, without causing material damage or casualties among camp residents, Abu al-Layth said.

A number of residents have fled the camp in recent days as a result of the shelling, he added.

With additional reporting by Mohammad Abdulssattar Ibrahim.

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor. She left Syria at the beginning of the conflict.

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali, originally from Daraa, had completed his first year studying Broadcast Journalism at Damascus University before leaving Syria in August 2012.

Justin Clark

Justin studied Arabic at Western Michigan University. He continued his studies at Bethlehem University in the West Bank and the Qasid Institute in Jordan. Justin's work and studies have taken him to Jordan, the West Bank, Egypt and Greece.