Car bomb in northern Syria leaves 19 dead

Updated November 17, 2019

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Mourners carry coffins at a funeral procession for Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters in the Syrian Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli on Saturday.—AFP
Mourners carry coffins at a funeral procession for Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters in the Syrian Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli on Saturday.—AFP

BEIRUT: A car bomb killed 19 people, 13 of them civilians, in the Turkish-controlled town of Al-Bab in northern Syria on Saturday, a war monitor said.

The bomb, which struck a bus and taxi station in the town, also wounded 33 people, some of them seriously, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Turkey and its Syrian proxies control several pockets of territory on the Syrian side of the border as a result of successive incursions in 2016-17, 2018 and 2019.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing but the Observatory said there had been persistent security incidents in the town since its capture by Turkish troops from the militant Islamic State group in February 2017. The town, some 30 kilometres (20 miles) northeast of Syria’s second city Aleppo, was one of the westernmost strongholds of the jihadists’ self-styled “caliphate” which was finally eradicated by US-backed Kurdish forces in eastern Syria in March.

Turkey blamed the car bombing on the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) against whom it launched a new invasion further east last month.

Kurdish fighters “continue to target innocent civilians using the same methods as Daesh,” the defence ministry said on its official Twitter account using another acronym for IS.

There was no immediate reaction from the YPG, seen by Ankara as a “terrorist offshoot” of the Kurdistan Workers Party which has fought an insurgency inside Turkey for the past 35 years.

The latest Turkish invasion, which was aimed at creating a buffer zone the whole length of the border, sparked an outcry in the West because of the key role the YPG played in the US-led campaign against IS.

It paused after Turkey struck a truce deal with Russia, the main supporter of the Syrian government, to jointly patrol the border area and oversee the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters from a new Turkish-controlled pocket between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain.

Northern Syria has been hit by several explosions that have killed and wounded scores of people over the past month. That’s since Turkey began a military operation against Kurdish fighters in the wake of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the bulk of American troops out of northern Syria. A video posted online by Albab City, an activist collective, showed several vehicles on fire with black smoke billowing from a wide street with shops on both sides. Inside the bus station, several white minibuses appear damaged.

It looks like doomsday. May God help us, a man could be heard saying as five young men carried a wounded person away. At least two bloodied and wounded men could be seen rushed away on motorcycles.

Turkey-backed opposition fighters took control of parts of Aleppo province, including the towns of al-Bab and Afrin, in previous military offensives in 2016 and 2018, respectively.

The past months attacks have come amid an expanding Turkish invasion of into northeast Syria against Kurdish-held towns and villages along a stretch of the border.

Three car bombs went off on Monday in the northeastern Syrian town of Qamishli near the border with Turkey, killing at least six people, according to activists and Syria’s state news agency SANA.

On Nov 2, a car bomb killed 13 people in the northern Syrian town of Tal Abyad, which is also held by Turkey-backed opposition fighters.

The Turkish offensive has aimed at pushing Kurdish fighters away from the border. Those Kurdish fighters had been key US allies in the fight against the militant Islamic State group. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters terrorists linked to a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2019