Syria conflict: Kilis, the Turkish town enduring IS bombardment

By Selin Girit
BBC News, Kilis, Turkey

Media caption,
The Turkish town being bombed daily by so-called Islamic State

The moment we arrive in Kilis, just 5km (3 miles) from the Syrian border, we hear the sound of two rockets coming in. We rush to the area where they have landed.

Over the border lies the al-Bab district, currently under control of jihadists from so-called Islamic State (IS).

Kilis is paying a heavy price for its proximity to IS. Since January, more than 70 rockets fired from across the border have hit this town, killing at least 21 people.

Almost 100,000 Turks live in Kilis, but the population has been more than doubled by the arrival of Syrian refugees.

"Bombs in the morning, bombs in the evening," one man shouts. "Our kids at home are scared to death. Don't these people fear God? Doesn't anyone hear us?"

A residential building is hit. Pieces of windows, rubbles, and a bed sheet all lie on the street. People gathered at the scene are in panic and visibly angry.

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The intensity of the attacks has increased considerably in the last month, becoming almost part of the daily routine.

"Thank God there was no one inside when it got hit," says Omer Suat Ciloglu, who lives in the building.

Image source, Goktay Koraltan
Image caption,
At least 21 people have been killed in attacks on Kilis and many more have been hurt
Image source, Goktay Koraltan
Image caption,
Many residents have fled the bombardment of Kilis

All the south-facing windows have been blown out. One floor is completely in ruins. Ceilings and walls are pock-marked by shrapnel.

'Nisa is dead'

Within 20 minutes, two more rockets hit Kilis.

Women run through the streets shouting. "Go inside!" A little girl is shell-shocked, trembling and looking towards the smoke rising from where the rockets landed.

As we arrive in front of the latest building to be hit, a woman tells us it is her sister's house.

"We heard that my five-year-old niece, Nisa, was injured. She was playing by the house," she says.

Minutes later another woman arrives: "Nisa is dead," she says. They start running towards the hospital.

Image source, Goktay Koraltan
Image caption,
More than 70 rockets have hit the town since January
Image source, Goktay Koraltan
Image caption,
Residents say routines have changed as violence escalates

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week that Turkey would keep responding to rocket fire from Syria.

"We have never left any attack on Turkish lands and citizens unanswered and we will never leave it unanswered," he said.

"Daesh suffered great losses because of its attacks on Kilis. If they continue they will suffer greater losses," Mr Erdogan added, using an Arabic acronym based on the previous name of IS.

Turkey has repeatedly fired back at IS positions from its border with Syria, but has said it needs greater support from Western allies, citing the difficulty of hitting moving targets with howitzers.

The United States and Turkey have been discussing for months a military plan to drive the jihadists from the border.

But Turkey cannot currently deploy air strikes against IS targets, for fear of a confrontation with Russian warplanes. A Russian jet was downed by Turkey in November, straining relations between the two countries.

There is no appetite among Turkish public opinion for a ground operation either. But residents in Kilis want an imminent solution and an end to the rocket attacks.

"Is Kilis not within the borders of Turkey," asks Veysel Evran, whose 63-year-old mother was killed in an attack last month. "The government always says Turkey is powerful, the Turkish army is powerful. So where are they? The president has forgotten all about Kilis."

Thousands of people have already left Kilis because of security concerns.

Everyone here says they have either sent their family away or are about to. Most of the children have not been going to school for at least two weeks, although they are not officially closed.

Image source, Goktay Koraltan
Image caption,
Tense proximity: Turkish city Kilis seen on the foreground, with Syria's Bab on the back

In the city centre, many shops have shut in protest, some with signs that read: "We are closed because of the rockets falling on our town."

"At night we hear a thunder, we think it is a rocket. We see a crow in the sky, we think it is a rocket," says one woman who survived an attack. "Our psychology is totally messed up. God help us all."

The Syrian refugees in Kilis, who number some 120,000, are also badly affected.

"Bombs fell on us in Syria. We escaped. But bombs are falling on us here too. We are scared, we want it to end, but it doesn't," says Ahmet, who is 11 years old.

His three-year-old neighbour Mahmut is in tears and crying out loud. His hands shake in fear because of the constant sound of rockets.