From inside northern Syria
I get lots of email, little of it more interesting than this timely update on the sitution in and near Tal Abyad on the Turkish border in northern Syria, which was liberated from ISIS two days ago. This comes from Bassam Barabandi and Sasha Ghosh-Siminoff of People Demand Change, who have good on-the-ground sources in Syria (I’ve made some minor edits for clarity and readability):
Tensions over Raqqah
The Kurdish and Arab tribal heads from both sides along with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) commanders are meeting today to continue discussing the status of Raqqah. The major dispute surrounds PYD’s claim that Northern Raqqah is part of “Rojave” or the Kurdish autonomous zone that they have claimed in Syria, and whether that means that their forces have the right to control this area militarily. Also it has implications for the areas future such as whether YPG will attempt to change the demography of the area to solidify Raqqah as a land-bridge between Kobani and Hasakah.
More and more tribal fighters from Raqqah have come to join under Abo Essa’s command and will continue to do so, especially if they think their lands will be taken by the Kurds.
Refugees from Raqqah (and especially Tal Abyad) who are in Akcakale [Turkey] have gathered into an informal militia of several hundred armed men in response to the YPG’s announcement that they considered Raqqah part of their autonomous zone. The situation there is very tense. Many of these armed refugees are crossing the border today back into Tal Abyad to support Abo Essa and show the YPG they will not give up their land without a fight. The Turkish Government thus far has not interfered in Akcakale regarding this tense situation. Some Raqqah community leaders went to Akcakale last night and asked everyone to calm down and not to make a violent confrontation in Turkey with either Kurdish refugees or the YPG. Kurdish civil society activists also made calls to Kurdish refugees and youth in Akcakale and pleaded with them sternly to stay out of the streets and not to make a fight with any of the youth from Raqqah.
Ahmad Haj Salah, the first president of the Raqqah local council was beaten by three youth when he was in Akcakale, but his injuries were not serious and he returned to Gaziantep.
Refugees crossing into Turkey not expelled
More civilians crossed into Akcakale, Turkey after the Turkish Government opened the border crossing today at 10am (Turkish time).
Some citizen journalists (Arab) have traveled to Akcakale to interview the Arab refugees fleeing Kobani and Raqqah. So far the responses have been that people are fleeing because they did not want to be caught between YPG and ISIS battles and that they needed food and water and preferred to come to Turkey until the fighting was over and it was clear who is in control of the ground. When asked about the issue of whether YPG had forced them to leave, until now the response was that they left voluntarily and were not forced to leave.
YPG commander had requested some villages in the Tal Abyad suburbs be evacuated by the civilians until the fighting was over. In these villages, civilians complied and left, but this same commander announced that all civilians who were requested to leave can return without fear and no harm will come to them. Some civilians have begun return and the YPG has worked to help a local bakery in the area open back up so the civilians can receive food.
Military situation still fluid
Ayn Essa has been liberated and the surrounding suburbs as well.
Western front is still moving south towards the Tal Abyad-Raqqah highway to cut the road just south-east of Ayn Essa.