Turkish families flee Kurdish mortars

Viransehir (Turkey) (AFP) –


The day before Turkey began its Syria offensive had been like any other day for Ayse, making bread at home while the children played outside in the sweltering heat.

But within hours of Ankara launching the operation, Aysa found herself, like many terrified families in the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, cowering under a table as mortar shells rained down and Ankara's jets thundered overhead.

When Turkey launched its military action against Kurdish militants in Syria on Wednesday, few had expected such a fierce response, with hundreds of mortars dropping on Turkish border towns.

"You're scared even if you don't want to be. We didn't think the shelling would be this bad," Ayse told AFP.

She fled her home after two days for one of seven school boarding houses in the town of Viransehir, around 50 kilometres (30 miles) away, where the government provided shelter and food to around 1,000 people, mostly women and children.

"I said repeatedly I wouldn't leave but I could see my children's psychology was badly affected because of the sounds of shelling," the mother-of-six said.

Turkish howitzers and warplanes have pounded targets just over the border in Ras al-Ain, while the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) have returned fire with rockets and mortars into Ceylanpinar, where around 70,000 people live.

Two 11-year-olds were killed on Thursday after mortar shells and rockets hit the town, according to officials.

"We left quickly in the night, without anything for ourselves, our children," said Gulistan, who has eight children, the youngest only six months.

In a visit arranged with local authorities, AFP spoke to several women at one boarding house, though some did not wish to give their real names.

One said a bomb landed at her home but had not exploded.

"The police came to destroy the bomb and said if we had not called them within an hour, it could have exploded and caused much damage," she said.

- Looting -

With fighting still raging across the border and mortars still incoming on Monday, more families have fled to Viransehir.

The women claimed there had been multiple incidents of looting in the town, and that their relatives had stayed behind to protect their homes.

"People can't leave," said one woman.

Ayse broke down into tears, saying her elderly mother, husband and 19-year-old son had remained in Ceylanpinar.

Nonetheless, the women still support the Turkish operation and praised the help they had received in the boarding houses.

"May God protect our state and our soldiers," said Ayse.

Many families have also sought refuge with relatives in other towns.

"I want to go back home but my husband told me I shouldn't, saying there were still bullets flying," said Ayse.

"Who knows how long we will stay? Maybe we will stay for one more week, maybe more."