“KNOW BETTER WITH MESOP” – THE AXIS WORKS ! – Syria Shifts Stance Toward Kurds – By Raja Abdulrahim & Noam Raydan

“Ahmad Hisso Araj, a Kurdish spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces: Now the police force and militia associated with the Kurdish administration have become targets, said Mr. Araj. “This is evidence of the Turkish-Syrian regime rapprochement,” Mr. Araj said.”

24 Aug 20106 – WALL STREET JOURNAL – After years of tacitly allowing the creation of an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is treating the ethnic minority’s growing power as a threat. Syria is now describing the Kurds in terms similar to those used by Turkey, which has been a staunch supporter of Syrian rebels fighting against Mr. Assad.

Forces loyal to the regime clashed with Kurds in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakah for more than a week, though a Russian-brokered cease-fire went into effect Tuesday with Kurds mostly controlling the city.

Syrian airstrikes on Kurdish areas were rare before last week. But on Thursday, regime warplanes bombed an area of Hasakah near American special operations forces and fighters from the U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who have been fighting Islamic State. The airstrikes prompted the U.S. to scramble jets and issue an unusual warning to the regime.

The regime’s shift comes amid a warming of relations between Turkey and Mr. Assad’s allies Russia and Iran. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this month followed by a visit by Turkey’s foreign minister to Iran.

Kurdish leaders see the regime’s new aggression toward their forces as a sign of a rapprochement between Syria and Turkey in a conflict with constantly shifting alliances.

A Syrian army statement that followed the Hasakah airstrikes used rhetoric that was similar to Turkey’s. It referred to the police force of the Kurdish autonomous region as “the military wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party”–the separatist group that Turkey has been fighting for more than two decades.

Turkey has long accused the main Syrian Kurdish militia, YPG, of being one and the same as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

The Syrian army statement said it was determined “to protect the unity of Syria’s lands,” according to state media, an apparent reference to Kurdish aspirations for their own state.

Turkey views any regional Kurdish ambitions as emboldening the PKK, which both Ankara and Washington classify as a terrorist group.

“The regime has evidently come to the understanding that a Kurdish [autonomous zone] will form a threat to the regime,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in an interview this past weekend, referring to the clashes in Hasakah.

President Erdogan has previously called repeatedly for Mr. Assad to step down and said the Syrian leader should be tried for state terrorism at the International Criminal Court. But Turkey has softened its tone lately, with Mr. Yildirim saying on Saturday that his government must accept that Mr. Assad remains a person of influence in Syria and that he might continue to play a role during a transitional stabilization period.

Many senior YPG commanders have in fact trained and fought alongside the PKK for years. But the U.S., which relies on the YPG as the most effective fighting force against Islamic State in Syria, has sought to distinguish between the two militias.

The YPG along with its political arm have used the war against Islamic State to expand the territories in Syria under Kurdish control, including leading battles in predominantly Arab areas to link up two separate Kurdish cantons.

The establishment of an autonomous Kurdish region was only made possible by Syrian regime forces withdrawing earlier in the war from predominantly Kurdish areas and allowing Kurdish political groups and militias to take over government institutions. The withdrawal was strategic, as the Syrian regime was stretched thin fighting rebels and later Islamic State militants on multiple fronts.

“The regime’s policy previously was to avoid clashes [with Kurds], since the priority was fighting the [rebel] forces supported by Turkey,” said Ahmad Hisso Araj, a Kurdish spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Now the police force and militia associated with the Kurdish administration have become targets, said Mr. Araj.

“This is evidence of the Turkish-Syrian regime rapprochement,” Mr. Araj said.

Margaret Coker in Istanbul contributed to this article.