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Coalition, SDF patrol Syrian-Turkish border

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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Construction workers in Kobani return to work following joint international coalition and SDF patrols that have restored calm to the border area. [Photo courtesy of Saleh Muslim]

International coalition forces have been conducting joint patrols with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Kobani in northeast Syria, after areas east and west of the city came under shelling from the Turkish side of the border.

The shelling resulted in a number of casualties and stoked fears in the region, an SDF official said, but the situation returned to normal once the patrols began.

When the shelling started, on October 31st, the SDF announced it was suspending its military operations against the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) in the Hajin area of eastern Deir Ezzor province.

On Sunday (November 11th), the SDF announced these operations would resume, following "intensive contacts" with the international coalition and "strong diplomatic activity" to defuse the crisis, AFP reported.

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Joint international coalition-SDF patrols are being conducted in the border area in northeast Syria. [Photo courtesy of Saleh Muslim]

"The leadership of the SDF has decided to resume military operations against ISIS, and work towards its definitive defeat," it said in a statement.

"While it remains determined to chase down terrorism, (the SDF) also confirms its determination to protect the northern border of Syria," the statement added.

The joint SDF-coalition patrols in the border area come within the framework of the co-ordination between the two sides, and are aimed at establishing calm in the border area, SDF media centre director Mustafa Bali told Diyaruna.

In addition to conducting the joint patrols, he said, coalition commanders are calling for Kurdish and Turkish forces to exercise restraint, in order to de-escalate the situation and support the SDF's counter-terrorism efforts.

"These patrols have no specific timeframe or location, and will continue until the situation is fully back to normal," Bali said.

Civilians fear for their safety

According to journalist Saleh Muslim, who accompanied the first coalition-SDF patrols in Kobani, the shelling sparked fear among the civilian population and prompted international coalition forces to conduct joint patrols with the SDF along the entire border.

The patrols, which began November 2nd, took place from the Euphrates strip in al-Shuyoukh area through Suluk, Tal Abyad and al-Darbasiyah, he said, and in the former al-Jazeera and Euphrates cantons.

Muslim said the patrols gave civilians a "huge sense of relief" and dispelled the spectre of war that had loomed over the region, enabling markets to resume buying and selling activity after a considerable slowdown in trade.

Some civilians who live near the border strip, particularly in Kor Ali and Selim, had been displaced to the city of Kobani, he said, while civilians in Kobani itself started making preparations to leave in case the situation escalated.

Once the patrols began, however, residents returned to their homes after only a few days, and schools in some villages that had shut down out of concern for the lives of students were reopened.

Restoring calm to Kobani

According to Muslim, coalition and SDF officers in charge of the patrols have reassured villagers that reports that renewed shelling or military operations are imminent in the region are simply not true.

For many Kobani residents, the shelling brought to mind the circumstances civilians lived through when ISIS swept through the region, said Mahmoud Abdo, a western Kobani resident who works in agriculture.

It sparked panic among civilians, he told Diyaruna, noting that as the number of casualties rose -- with a 7-year-old girl among the dead -- fears grew, and many decided to leave the area out of fear for their lives.

Rural Kobani is dotted with villages that do not have shelters to protect civilians from the shelling, Abdo said, adding that the situation began to return to normal as soon as the announcement of the joint patrols was made.

"The patrols are being conducted along the entire length of the border strip, with occasional stops in villages to assure civilians that the situation is calm and that military activity will not resume," he said.

Local residents have said they appreciated the speed with which the coalition and SDF acted to stop the shelling and restore peace to the region, he added.

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