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Civilians Flee Turkish Incursion


Turkey says it is pressing on with its military incursion into Syria. The Turkish foreign minister says it's trying to avoid endangering civilians - wants to clear the area of Kurdish fighters who are Turkey's enemies. These fighters have been U.S. partners in the fight against ISIS. President Trump moved some troops away from the border, leaving Kurdish forces exposed and Syrian civilians vulnerable. NPR's Daniel Estrin met some of those people.


DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: We're at the Iraqi border crossing with Syria. And there are dozens of Syrian Kurds here who said they were too scared to stay in their homes, and they fled.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through interpreter) So because of the bombings, because of the fighting, you know, like, we couldn't sleep. My children, they were, like, freaking out. So we had to escape.

ESTRIN: It's getting dark. And Syrians are standing at the Iraqi border crossing waiting to be allowed in. They look exhausted from hours of waiting to cross the crowded border. But they're the lucky ones with Iraqi residency papers, who can cross through. They saw many hundreds more on the Syrian side of the border crossing not being allowed in.

We meet a doctor, Jafar Said, who fled his home in northeastern Syria. The area is mostly governed by Kurdish authorities, who call it Rojava.

JAFAR SAID: A disaster is going on in Rojava. And main cause is because of America.

ESTRIN: Kurds say they feel betrayed by President Trump. The U.S. had partnered with Kurdish forces to end ISIS control of the territory. But now Trump has withdrawn some U.S. troops from the area, leaving Kurdish forces to fend for themselves as Turkey leads a ground and air offensive. Yesterday, U.S. officials said Turkish artillery fire landed close to a U.S. military position on the border. No one was hurt, but the U.S. pulled its troops out of yet another spot along the border. Kurds have fled the area, too, like 27-year-old Sevinaz Evdike. She's been sending us WhatsApp voice messages since the offensive began.


SEVINAZ EVDIKE: Hi. How are you? Today I was in the shelter full of my neighbors. And another one that - it was full of my uncles and cousins and aunts. So I just - we just hugged each other.

ESTRIN: But one of her uncles is missing. He's a Kurdish fighter and a father of seven. She hasn't heard from him since the fighting began, so she went to the morgue.

EVDIKE: And now at the end of the night, I was looking for my disappeared uncle. And I went to the fridge of the martyrs. I couldn't find him, but there was many martyrs.

ESTRIN: Fighters and civilians have been killed since the offensive began, both Syrian and Turkish, though there are conflicting reports on the numbers. Some international aid groups in Northern Syria have fled the fighting themselves, crossing into Iraq, but not all. Steve Gumaer of Partners Relief and Development says his team is helping Syrians seeking shelter away from the frontlines.

STEVE GUMAER: They're distributing blankets, mats and food for at least 2,000 people at the moment and are prepared to increase the amount of aid that we're delivering.

ESTRIN: Turkey says its aim is to create a buffer zone on its border where it could relocate millions of Syrian refugees who have been living in Turkey for years. But Turkey's offensive is creating a new wave of Syrians uprooted from their homes. The U.N. says 100,000 Syrians are on the move. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, near the Iraq-Syria border. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.