Turkey denies it's building wall around Afrin

Turkish-backed factions denied reports that Turkey is building a wall to separate Afrin from the northern Aleppo countryside, saying Ankara is actually boosting its security against potential Kurdish attacks.

al-monitor Turkish soldiers ride on a military vehicle in the center of Afrin, Syria, March 24, 2018. Photo by REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi.

May 16, 2019

ALEPPO, Syria — Several media sites, including the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported at the end of April that the Turkish army was building a concrete wall around Afrin.

The wall would reportedly isolate Afrin from the northwestern Aleppo countryside and later facilitate its annexation to Turkish territory.

Thousands of displaced people from Afrin protested the wall outside the headquarters of the Russian forces in the village of Kashtar in the northern Aleppo countryside on April 22. They also denounced the Turkish forces' destruction of civilian homes and properties in the villages of Jalbal, Marimin and Kimar, where the wall will reportedly be built.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Turkish army control Afrin, while the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) control villages in the Tal Rifat area in Aleppo’s northern countryside, near Afrin.

Protesters formed a delegation to discuss the issue with the Russian leadership in the area. The delegation presented a petition to the Russian leadership on behalf of the people, demanding an intervention to stop the construction of the separation wall and to end any potential Russian-Turkish agreements concerning Afrin and the Syrian north.

Meanwhile, the National Army, affiliated with the FSA, denied reports of a wall and said the Turkish army was only building fortifications for its military bases in Afrin to prevent the infiltration of YPG fighters.

National Army spokesman Maj. Yusuf Hamoud told Al-Monitor the claims of a wall were "fake news. Such media reports aim, one way or another, to serve the YPG’s propaganda against the FSA factions.”

Yet Hamoud added that fortifications and other protective measures have been under construction since April 1, including concrete walls around Turkish military bases in Afrin; concrete blocks to fortify the FSA barracks; and concrete fortifications along southeast lines of contact with the YPG. "YPG fighters often sneak into the city of Afrin to carry out terrorist bombings," he said. "These concrete fortifications are only for security purposes."

Regarding civilian concerns about the wall, Hamoud said, “We call on our people in Aleppo’s northern countryside and Afrin, in particular, not to believe such news, since we all know who the source is and what the goal is. [President Bashar al-Assad’s] regime and the YPG often start many rumors that undermine the stability of the area, tarnish the FSA’s image and intimidate civilians.”

Al-Monitor could not reach Afrin to observe the construction of the separation wall, as the National Army announced May 3 that the road between Azaz and Afrin would be blocked and turned into a military zone as a result of reported YPG attacks.

Activist Abdel Fattah al-Hussein, who moves around FSA-controlled areas in Aleppo’s countryside but is stationed in Afrin, told Al-Monitor that the YPG escalated the situation on April 30, when an affiliated group snuck into the area and targeted a Turkish military convoy with anti-tank missiles at the Bab al-Salama crossing, en route to Afrin. "A Turkish soldier was killed and others wounded," he said. "YPG infiltrators also targeted and killed an FSA fighter and wounded others on that same road. The YPG affiliates had entered through a spot near the village of Jalbal, an easily accessed mountainous area, where military fortifications are now being put in place."

The National Army launched a military operation against the YPG on May 4 in the northern countryside of Aleppo, during which it managed to take control of three villages. The National Army quickly withdrew later that day with no explanation.

Al-Monitor toured Afrin on May 10, after the fighting between the FSA and the YPG subsided and the road between Azaz and Afrin was reopened. The FSA and the Turkish army have taken extra security measures: New checkpoints were erected around Afrin, and Turkish trucks transported concrete blocks into Syria from the Turkish border.

An FSA commander in Afrin told Al-Monitor, “We have been securing the FSA factions’ checkpoints since the beginning of April, in addition to organizing the work of all checkpoints around Afrin and erecting new ones along contact lines with the YPG. The Turkish army placed concrete blocks at checkpoints and barriers, and the Turkish military bases near the lines of contact reinforced protection measures, all to prevent the occurrence of terrorist operations carried out by YPG infiltrators.”

The FSA commander said that the images of the wall circulating in the media are "actually several concrete walls spanning short distances in the mountainous areas near the military points east of the town of Jalbal. No civilian homes were demolished, as reported.”

The commander said that the region is “a direct contact area with the YPG northwest of Tal Rifat, from which the YPG come to carry out bombings inside Afrin." The wall "is not one concrete block, which means it does not isolate the area from Aleppo’s countryside, as media reports are claiming. Contact lines in this area and the rough terrain are perfectly convenient for infiltrators."

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