Kurdish Forces Clash with Main Syrian Opposition in Syria, Reports Say

17/01/2013 RUDAW By WLADIMIR van WILGENBURG – AMSTERDAM, the Netherlands – Kurdish rebels in Syria clashed with the country’s main anti-regime opposition on Wednesday, shattering a cease-fire signed last month and killing seven fighters, news reports said.

In the clashes between the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG) and the Free Syrian Army in the city of Ras al-Ayn (Serekaniye), seven FSA fighters were killed and one wounded, according to the Firat News Agency which sympathizes with the YPG. The Kurdish news website Welati reported that FSA units used heavy weapons and shelled the YPG with artillery, adding that civilians were trapped in their homes and unable to flee. 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.

On Wednesday, the PYD claimed that 1,500 rebels backed by Turkey had crossed into Syria and were heading to the town of Remelan, where YPG forces recently fought with regime forces. The Kurdish news website Welati reported they entered the area from Turkey on Tuesday, although it was unclear if they were indeed coming from Turkey or inside Syria.

According to Kurdish activist Azad Dewani from Syria, the push by rebels is supported by Turkey. “They might only succeed in igniting an ethnic conflict between Arabs and Kurds. This what the Turkish regime want. Turkey will push them whenever it needs.” The Kurdish Youth Movement (TCK) on its official Twitter page said that Arab tribal chief Nawaf al-Bashir is reportedly highly involved in the conflict in Serekaniye. “We hope for a de-escalation of the situation in Serekaniye. The FSA group has issued a statement claiming to represent Kurdish interests. There are mixed reports coming out of Serekaniye. Both the  PYD and FSA say they are victorious, we need clarity on the situation.”

In a statement released by the FSA’s Military Council in Hasakah they called the PYD mercenaries of the Assad regime and Kurds their brothers. “Despite all our attempts to avoid bloodshed, they insist on protecting the system (Assad government) and they fight against the FSA on behalf of the system,” the FSA said in the statement.

Bedir Mustafa, an activist of the TCK, told Rudaw that the FSA push is probably related to the takeover of the Taftanaz military airbase in Idlib province last Friday. “They have more strength to enforce their power in the Kurdish areas now,” he said. There was fighting in Ras al-Ayn before last November. But in mid-December the FSA and YPG signed an agreement to end the armed conflict. However, fears remained the fighting would continue. A sign of this was a tribal conference in the Turkish city of Şanlıurfa that discussed the future of the Hasakah province and supported the FSA´s military council in Hasakah and its plan to fight in the Kurdish dominated province.

In a speech earlier this month, Assad praised the fight of the YPG against Islamist fighters. Sheruan Hassan, a representative of the PYD in the Netherlands, told Rudaw that the PYD does not want the FSA or Assad in Kurdish areas. “We don’t want Bashar al-Assad, or any other power. We want to rule ourselves, not someone from Damascus, Homs or others. That time is over.” He said the Kurds do not need radical groups and if they want they can “liberate” other cities such as Homs or Aleppo.  “Our cities are sort of freed. We don’t need them (FSA).” YPG fighters recently clashed with forces of the Syrian regime in Girziro, a village near the city of Girke Lege. The YPG claimed it pushed out the Syrian  forces from the area. Reports indicate they got support from the youth of the Progressive Party led by Hamid Darwish, who is funded by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). After the fighting, the YPG surrounded 200 regime forces near oil-rich Remalan, of which 10 soldiers defected to the YPG, the London-based NGO Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR) said.