AFRIN, SYRIA/WASHINGTON —
U.S.-backed Syrian forces have opened a corridor that will allow an exchange of goods with civilians under Islamic State (IS) control in northern Aleppo.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Kurdish and Arab forces backed by aerial support from the U.S.-led coalition, say the "trade" corridor will help boost the economic activity of its self-declared Afrin Canton in northern Aleppo, and will prevent the starvation of civilians in besieged IS territories.
Opened on May 25, the corridor lies 24 kilometers north of Aleppo between SDF-controlled Ahras village and IS-controlled Harbal village. SDF and IS are separated by the corridor’s "neutral" area, which is only about 2 kilometers long.
“Some middlemen between us and IS helped the opening of this route,” Ebo Khayas, a commander of SDF’s Jaish al-Thuwar, told VOA. “Our response to open the route was positive.”
Khayas told VOA the corridor is allowing civilians to move goods across the battling territories and provide food for civilians in IS-besieged areas.
“We opened that route to allow people to exchange goods and food,” he said. At the same time, “it will help boost the economy of our areas.”
WATCH: 'Trade' corridor opened near Aleppo
Hundreds of trucks are seen moving daily across the corridor, carrying tons of food and other supplies. Truck drivers say the corridor provides a relatively safe and short passage in the war-torn country.
Truck driver Ebo Abdo has been using the route since its opening in May to move vegetables from SDF areas to the middle of the IS capital in Raqqa.
“We take vegetables from here, something from Afrin, another thing from Deir-Aziza. We take them to Raqqa, Hasakah, and Qamishli, Manbij, and al-Bab,” Abdo told VOA.
Abdo said the route is relatively safe and easy, but he complained that heavy taxes on their goods by the SDF on one side and IS on the other side has doubled his costs.
SDF said they cannot guarantee that IS fighters will not benefit from the supply of food and other necessities sent for civilians. But they argued they are closely monitoring the corridor to make sure it’s not used to move supplies and weapons to IS.
“These areas are besieged, but we have opened this corridor. Goods are sent to them and we also receive their goods,” Xamgin Shexo, a member of the self-proclaimed Afrin Canton’s Taxes Directory told VOA.
“We do our investigation there,” Shexo said. “We check all trucks to see what they transport and whether they contain any illegal materials."
VOA’s Amina Misto contributed to this story from Afrin, Syria.