Syrian refugees in Turkey are beginning to make their way back to their homes in the city of Tal Abyad after Kurdish forces there defeated the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), dealing a major blow to the jihadist group, reports Agence-France Presse (AFP).
“Some 200 men, women and children carrying their meagre possessions crossed back into Syria through the Turkish border post of Akçakale, a day after Kurdish fighters backed by Syrian rebels took Tal Abyad,” states the article.
“The fight for the town prompted some 23,000 people to flee into Turkey, but on June 17 the first returnees said they were eager to get back home,” it adds.
Assisted by Syrian rebel forces and U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Defense Units (YPJ), were able to seize Tal Abyad from ISIS on June 16, reports the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which uses a network of sources on the ground to monitor the war in Syria.
“I’m returning, I left my husband there. But I’m still very afraid of the bombs, how would someone not be afraid of bombs?” said Fahriye, a 40-year-old housewife, reports AFP. “I’m also afraid of ISIL coming back. I’ll go and decide with my family whether we’ll stay or not.”
Some refugees were glad to be back home ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins on June 18 in Syria.
“It’s not so good here… It’s not like home,” Mahmud, a farmer, told AFP. “We want to spend our holy Ramadan in our homeland. We have been looking forward to it.”
According to AFP, some analysts consider the ISIS defeat in Tal Abyad as the most significant in Syria so far.
“The town was a key conduit for foreign fighters and supplies into ISIL-held territory in Syria and for exports of black market oil from jihadist-held fields,” notes AFP. “The loss cuts a key ISIL supply line to the jihadists’ de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa.”
SOHR reports that Kurdish fighters, in coordination with Syrian rebel troops, carried out sweeps of Tal Abyad, looking for ISIS members and mines left behind by the jihadist group.
The monitor group said YPG and rebel forces asked residents of 10 villages in the area to leave their homes amid the searches.
Some Syrian rebel groups had accused the Kurdish fighters of carrying out “a campaign of ethnic and sectarian cleansing” in Tal Abyad under “U.S.-led coalition air cover.”
Turkey echoed those allegations, accusing the Kurdish forces of seeking to “ethnically cleanse” Tal Abyad and nearby regions of Arabs and Turkmen, reports AFP.
However, the YPG and their Arab rebel allies denied the accusations.