‘Civilians have become the fuel in his terrible war to be consumed and burned’

Sharine Salih
A relative cries by the body of a woman killed in shelling by the Turkish army in the town of Qamishli, Syria: AP

The markets, the once-crowded streets and the public parks are now empty. Everything silenced and terrified, except for the intermittent sound of Turkish artillery fire, whose craters almost swallow up the horizon.

This is Qamishli, a border town controlled in part by Kurdish forces and in part by the Syrian regime. Here the strikes are random. There are no shelters. There is nowhere to hide. The Syrian regime is banning people from exiting the town to other places.

Like many border areas under attack since the Turkish army and its Syrian rebel allies launched an incursion into northeast Syria on Wednesday, the displacement of people increases day by day.

People are pouring into towns further south and the countryside in pursuit of safety. Innocent people have been turned into the fuel of war, to be consumed and burned.

Monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) says 64 people, including 21 children, have been killed in the fighting.

Among those are nine civilians who were shot dead “execution-style”, the SOHR added.

Meanwhile, more than 130,000 people have been displaced as a result of the fighting, according to the United Nations.

The UN’s humanitarian office estimates in total 400,000 civilians in the Syrian conflict zone may require aid and protection in the coming period.

The fighting so far has reached the main highway that runs between Hassakah, a major town and logistical hub, and Ain Eissa, the administrative centre of the Kurdish-led areas.

It is chaos. Kurdish authorities said on Sunday afternoon that some 785 people affiliated with the so-called Islamic State have escaped from a camp in Ain Eissa.

Like thousands of others, I don’t know what I will do or where I shall go. There is no safe place after the Turkish strikes. Every place is a potential target.

At Qamishli’s overwhelmed hospital, the freshly wounded people and the dead keep arriving.

The corridors are filled with cries and moans. Everyone has given into death and pain, it seems.

I spoke to a wounded Christian family whose neighbourhood in Qamishli was bombed three days ago.

The husband Fadi Habsuno described the moment he experienced “death while still alive” when two shells landed on his street during the Turkish army’s bombing of al-Bashiriya district.

“When the bombardment started, I had nightmares my two children would be orphaned or worse and so I took them with my wife to the safest place I could find – a friend’s house,” he says.

But it turned out the entire street was under fire.

With the shrapnel still puncturing his body, he describes how he bled for an hour as he desperately searched for his family. He says everything around him had turned to dust.

“I felt heat in my body, dizzy in my head, I remember stumbling upon the body of my dusty neighbour who had his brain outside the skull on the ground while I was looking for my wife and children.”

His wife, Juliet, was badly wounded in her back and abdomen. Her condition was still critical even after a six-hour operation.

He later found his two children cowering in a corner of the building which was partially standing and so “hugged them as if they were reborn”.

“There were no ambulances, and no means of transport,” he continues, adjusting his bandages with pain. His tears mingle with the blood dried stiff on his face. Behind him his wife’s groans fill the room.

“We no longer have anything. My house has become rubble. I lost everything I had, now Juliet and I are at the hospital and don’t know where we’re going.”

“Even the sparrows that I took care of were burned and our canary birds,” he adds, his voice trailing off.

In a different ward, parents mourned the death of a 15 -year-old boy, Mohammed, and learned their eight-year-old daughter Sara will lose her leg.

They said earlier the girl, whose leg was all but blown off during shelling, had initially tried to check on her brother as he lay lifeless on a gurney.

Dazed she did not know he was dead or that her leg had been amputated.

Now she cries for a cup of water. She does not realise the amount of blood she has lost.

“We lost our boy forever. We will never see him play?” Asks the children’s father Youssef.

“We will not see his sister play with other children. She lost her leg. Do you have any idea what it means for a child to lose a leg? Do you know she will remain handicapped for the rest of her life?”