Omair al-Najjar had only been married for nine days when the missile exploded in the center of Azaz on Tuesday.
The 22-year-old was one of five civilians killed in the attack on the Syrian opposition city in the northern province of Aleppo.
Al Jazeera was unable to verify who fired the missiles, but the Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets, said the missiles had been fired from areas controlled by the Syrian government and the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
“He moved to Azaz because it was a safe area, away from attacks by the Syrian regime and Russia,” one of al-Najjar’s relatives, who did not want to be named, told Al Jazeera. Al-Najjar had left his hometown of Kafarouma, near Maarat al-Numan, in late 2019 as Syrian government forces advanced on the town, before finally taking control in early 2020.
He eventually found a job in a clothing store in the center of the city of Azaz, where he was eventually killed.
Tuesday’s attack came after days of Turkish airstrikes on the predominantly Kurdish YPG, or People’s Protection Units, as well as YPG rocket attacks on Turkey and opposition-held areas of Syria. Civilians on both sides have been killed in the attacks.
Turkey considers the YPG to be the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group designated as a “terrorist” in Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
The recent uptick in violence came as Turkey threatened a new ground operation following the November 13 Istanbul bombing, which it blamed on the YPG and PKK, despite their denials. There have been fears that the security situation in Azaz, previously a relatively safe area under Turkish protection, will deteriorate.
“I have survived death, but the smell of blood filled the place and I remembered the previous attacks when I lived in Maarat al-Numan,” said Hassan al-Khatib, one of the survivors of the Azaz attack, who works as a lawyer.
“I chose Azaz because it is a border region and it is safe because it is far from [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad and Russia,” al-Khatib said. “However, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) attack populated areas, in addition to the increasing military escalation every day.”
“If Azaz, which we consider to be the safest place to live, is under attack, then I don’t think there is anywhere that is safe,” he added.
According to Firas Fahham, a Syrian researcher with the Istanbul-based think tank Jusoor for Studies, the attacks on Turkey indicated an escalation.
“The SDF attack on Turkey is proof that the SDF is taking Turkish threats against them seriously,” Fahham said, blaming the SDF for recent attacks in Turkish border areas.
“It seems that the SDF is afraid that Turkey will act on its threats and is trying to make it more costly for Turkey. [to carry out an operation] putting pressure on him and hitting the Turkish border areas in an attempt to affect Turkish public opinion and embarrass the Turkish government with the presidential election drawing near,” Fahham added.
Despite Turkey’s numerous previous threats to launch a military offensive against SDF forces, Fahham believes that things may be different this time, as a result of Russia’s difficulties in Ukraine. Russia, along with Western countries and Iran, have repeatedly warned against a new Turkish ground offensive against the SDF.
Syrian opposition forces, including the Syrian National Army, have said they are ready to participate in any upcoming Turkish military operation against the SDF.
“Our forces have previously carried out intensive training in preparation for a new military operation that was postponed for various reasons,” said Al-Farouk Abubakr, leader of the Syrian National Army (SNA).
“Raising the readiness of the SNA has coincided with the preparations of the Turkish army and the statements of the Turkish president about the possibility of ground forces participating… in an operation,” Abubakr added.