Amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, emerging reports from northern Syria point to a controversial and unconfirmed relocation of thousands of Hamas members to the Kurdish city of Afrin (Efrîn) in northwestern Syria.
Visual evidence from the region and reports from Kurdish sources have previously suggested Turkish and Qatari collaboration in a plan to relocate Palestinian families to Afrin.
New details have emerged, with Hawar News Agency (ANHA) reporting on the alleged relocation of Palestinian families linked to Hamas to Afrin. ANHA claims that these families are being settled in the region, and their identities are being recorded by an organisation known as the Shexaf Association.
The identity of the organisation remains unclear, but local sources have backed claims that it was set up with funding from the Turkish government.
ANHA claims to have the names of 35 families of Hamas members who were relocated to a camp in the Sherawa district.
The number of Palestinians settled in camps in Afrin and Al-Bab is estimated to be in the tens of thousands, mainly from Gaza.
The alleged relocation initiative began on 19 October during the Hamas-Israel conflict and was allegedly coordinated by Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. The families were allegedly transported from Gaza to Afrin’s Jindires (Cinderes) district.
Camps under the supervision of the Turkish National Intelligence Organisation (MİT) and controlled by Turkish-backed militias are said to be managing the settlement process. Previous North Press Agency documentation has highlighted several of these camps.
Afrin, once a Kurdish-majority self-governing city, underwent significant changes following Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch in January 2018. The offensive displaced more than 150,000 Kurds, who make up almost 80 per cent of Afrin’s population, according to the UN. The operation also led to various human rights violations and abuses.
Turkey built new settlements on the outskirts of Afrin after taking control of the city. These settlements are funded by Kuwait, Qatar and Palestine. In addition, Turkish authorities have been deporting and resettling Syrian refugees from Turkey to newly built housing in Syria, with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressing his intention to settle over a million refugees in these buildings.
Human rights groups argue that these initiatives are part of a wider strategy to change the demographic make-up of the region.