HASAKEH: In a hospital in northeastern Syria, a nurse tends to a Kurdish fighter recovering from burns to his face sustained in battle against advancing Turkish troops.
“My dimples used to be like yours, but I lost one,” Suleiman Qahraman tells the nurse, smiling timidly to avoid hurting his scorched face too much.
“Now I have just one left,” the 19-year-old says, referring to the one side of his face that has survived unscathed, making his fellow fighters laugh.
He and his fellow burns patients were all wounded in the defence against Turkish soldiers and their Syrian proxies who launched a cross-border offensive on October 9.
The invasion has killed more than 250 fighters of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and wounded many more, according to Britain-based war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Qahraman says he was sleeping when his position near the border town of Ras al-Ain was hit in a bombardment by pro-Turkish forces.
“I haven’t been able to feel anything since,” he said.
“When I woke up, my body was all burnt, covered in blood. Fire was devouring everything,” he says, adding he was the only one in his unit to survive.
The Kurdish authorities in northeastern Syria have accused Turkey of resorting to banned weapons such as napalm and white phosphorus munitions, a charge Ankara has denied.
The Observatory, which has a wide network of sources on the ground, said it could not confirm the use of the weapons.
“I’ve never seen weapons like this before,” said Qahraman, who also fought jihadists in eastern Syria earlier this year, and Turkish troops and their proxies in a previous invasion in 2018.
– ‘Defend our dignity’ –
Turkey launched its latest offensive after President Donald Trump said he would withdraw all US troops from northeastern Syria where they had been helping the SDF fight jihadists.
The SDF lost 11,000 fighters in the battle against the Islamic State group, and the US pullout was widely seen as a betrayal.
Irdal Walid, 19, lies on a nearby bed, his face peppered with shrapnel.
On his mobile phone, he watches footage of him and his friends capturing a Turkish tank.
“My father told me to defend our dignity and the dignity of our country,” he said.
“The only thing I can think about is going back to the front to defend my country and stand with my friends against the Turkish army.”
A US-brokered truce was announced on Thursday night under which the SDF was supposed to withdraw from a 120-kilometre (75-mile) wide strip along the Turkish border.
On Sunday, the SDF pulled out of Ras al-Ain the town that Qahraman had been fighting to defend under siege.
But the wounded fighters refuse to give up.
Ali Sheer, 21, lost his arm in an ambush during the defence of Ras al-Ain.
“I lost this arm because we defended our land with our bodies. I’m proud of that,” he said.
“I will try to replace it with a prosthetic limb and return to fight.”