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Rocket fire becomes deadly routine for Turkish border town

4 min

Kilis (Turkey) (AFP)

Cuma Kilicioglu was relaxing at his home watching television in a Turkish border town when rockets fired from neighbouring Syria slammed into his three-storey house.

But like others in the Turkish border town of Kilis which is dangerously exposed to Syria, he supports the Turkish army's military campaign against the People's Protection Units (YPG) Kurdish militia.

"While our soldiers are clashing on the border, where can I flee?" Cuma told AFP outside his house in Kilis, which lies five kilometres (three miles) north of the Turkey-Syria border.

Kilis has long been exposed to Syria's nearly seven year civil war.

It has been repeatedly hit by deadly rocket attacks during spikes in tensions and is also the only regional centre in Turkey where Syrian refugees form a majority, outnumbering the Turkish population of around 100,000.

It is again vulnerable after Turkey on Saturday sent troops and tanks in northern Syria in its campaign "Olive Branch" against the YPG, viewed as "terrorists" by Ankara.

On Wednesday, rockets fired from Syria on Kilis killed two people -- a Syrian refugee and a Turkish citizen -- and wounded 11 others.

Turkey says such attacks are carried out by the YPG. The militia has denied responsibility, insisting it does not target civilians.

- 'The world fell on us' -

The town on Thursday laid to rest the two victims, 72-year-old Turkish shop owner Muzaffer Aydemir and 27-year-old Syrian Tarik Tabbak. There was a Turkish flag on one coffin, the other had none.

"A few days ago before, he told officials he wanted to join the ranks of Turkish troops in Syria and fall as a martyr," said Aydemir's nephew Mithat.

The sound of Turkish artillery fire in response to the attacks from Syria can be heard echoing loudly inside Kilis.

But despite the fear and tension among the locals, there remains genuine support for the army's campaign.

"Our soldiers are fighting day and night, in rain and mud. Where will I go?" said Cuma.

But he could not disguise the fear caused by the frequent shelling.

"We were watching the news at home. All of a sudden we heard a rattle," he said. "It was like the world fell on us."

His wife Fevziye added: "We were watching the falling rockets on TV and thinking that it would never happen us.

"But it hit us at that moment, we are very scared," she said, pointing to the damage on the roof.

- 'Destiny of living on border' -

One of the rockets fired on Wednesday hit and damaged a mosque during prayers in the city centre. The second fell shortly after, on a house 100 metres (300 feet) away.

"I jumped out of my bed and ran outside. We were scared," said Kilis resident Alaaddin, whose house is next to the mosque.

But he added: "God bless our homeland, what can I say? We will not leave our country, we will stay here."

In a show of national pride, Turkish flags hang over the apartment buildings in the city centre, in shops, and on taxis.

"We in the past experienced similar incidents," 55-year-old Ahmet Kurtar said, remembering how shells from Syria hit their town two years ago.

"We are used to it, we are on the border ... What matters to us is our soldiers there."

Erdinc Toprak, who owns a pastry shop, said it was their fate to live close to the danger.

"What can we do? We believe it is the destiny of living on the border."

- 'Short holiday'-

Local authorities assured citizens there is no need to panic.

"The people of Kilis will continue to live here despite any kind of difficulty," Kilis governor Mehmet Tekinarslan said.

"In our city there is a determined, strong support for Operation Olive Branch. It is out of the question that these attacks can deter the people of Kilis, or the Turkish people."

Some people left their town temporarily because they were scared.

"Some of my relatives travelled to Ankara and some to Istanbul. Of course this is only temporarily," 26-year-old Mustafa told AFP.

"We can call it a 'short holiday' to repair their damaged psychology."

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