Islamists Fighting Kurds in Syria Admit to Turkish Military Support

06/02/2013 RUDAW  By BRADOST AZIZI – ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The leader of Islamists fighting Kurds in the Syrian city of Serekaniye (Ras al-Ain) admitted that Turkey was providing military support, and that forces had used heavy weapons.

“Turkey is supporting us militarily, morally, and humanely,” said Nawaf Ragheb al-Bashir, whose Al Jazeera-Euphrates Liberation Front (FAEL) has been fighting in Serekaniye with forces of the armed Popular Protection Units (YPG). “We are grateful to them,” Bashir said, about the help received from Turkey. The YPG has been linked to the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the most powerful Kurdish party in Syria, which has been accused of questionable ties to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.  The PYD in turn is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been locked in a decades-old war with Turkey. The fighting in Serekaniye has divided the opposition against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Speaking to Rudaw by telephone, Bashir accused the YPG of starting the fighting.

“They started first. We announced a ceasefire after few days of fierce fighting, but PYG violated the ceasefire and killed 15 of our armed members,” he said.

The fight between the two groups has continued, with each accusing the other of fighting over a piece of land that has been free of Syrian regime soldiers.Bashir suggested that his group is affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, the main Syrian opposition, which includes some Kurdish brigades and fighters.

“Why does the YPG not fight the Syrian regime in other cities? Why are they only fighting the Free Syrian Army (FSA)?” Bashir asked. But Malik al-Kurdi, deputy leader of the FSA, has previously said that the fighters in Serekaniye have no ties with his group. Political parties in Syrian Kurdistan, together with the YPG, accuse FAEL of trying to occupy the Syrian Kurdish regions with Turkey’s help. Salih Muslim, leader of the PYD, has said that, “Turkey has allocated $100,000,000 to support the victory of FAEL.”

Bashir blamed the YPG for the fighting in Serekaniye, where the casualties include three Kurdish children. “We had coordination with the Kurdish National Council (KNC), we met in Serekaniye and agreed that this town should be controlled by a civil authority and that our armed groups should pull out. But, the YPG units did not allow our forces to advance forward toward the city of Hassakah,” said al-Bashir.

“I am currently in Cairo and not fully aware of the details of the conflict. But it seems that the FSA was forced to use heavy artillery because the YPG have many snipers in Serekaniye,” Bashir said. Bashir denied accusations that FAEL forces were involved in looting Kurdish homes in the region. “This is not true. The FSA is not an occupier and it respects the people wherever it goes,” said Bashir. Regarding plans for Hassakah province after the fall of the regime, Bashir said that the issue had been discussed with Arab and Kurdish tribes, which he did not name. “We will not allow the separatists to control this province because it is the richest part of Syria in terms of oil and agriculture,” he said.