Offensive turns Syrian villages to ghost towns

STORY: The villages of Umm al-Keif, and nearby Tal Tamer, close to the northern Syrian frontline, have become ghost towns, under threat of a new Turkish military offensive.

They are frequently bombarded, and dozens of families have fled.

Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebel groups arrived on the outskirts as far back as 2019, but they have recently upped their assaults to drive out Kurdish fighters from the area, causing major damage.

Those who've stayed live in constant fear of an attack.

Ahmad Hassoun lives in Umm al-Keif.

“This was the nicest village. We had the best life. Now everyone left because of the bombardment. Only a few households remain here. They targeted our homes - we have women and children and we don't know where to go. Sometimes I say I don't want to leave my home, I want to die in my home. Where can I go?”

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan last month announced a new military operation in Syria to extend a 20-mile deep "safe zone" along the border.

He aims to oust fighters from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from the area.

The SDF have said they are coordinating with Syrian government troops to repel any offensive.

The new threats have highlighted the complex web of ties in northern Syria. Turkey considers Syrian Kurdish forces to be terrorists, but those forces are backed by Washington and have also coordinated with Syria's government and its ally Russia.

Pro-government local media reported that Syrian troops, tanks and heavy weaponry deployed over the weekend in response to Turkish moves.

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