Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—At least 12 Islamist fighters were killed in clashes with Kurdish militants in the Syrian city of Hasaka early Friday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.
“Clashes erupted on Friday at midnight between fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) on the one hand and fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Al-Nusra Front on the other hand,” the SOHR announced.
Friday’s fighting came after renewed tensions between the two sides in Kurdish-dominated areas to the north and east of Syria.
This is not the first time that Islamists linked to Al-Qaeda and Kurdish militants have fought since the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011. Rebel-on-rebel violence has been frequent in areas along the Turkish border, and last month witnessed heavy clashes in the oil-rich city of Ras Al-Ayn in northeastern Syria.
The Arab–Kurdish crisis appears to include the Free Syrian Army (FSA). A video posted on the internet showed Col. Abdul Jabbar Akidi, a member of the FSA military council, announcing that the FSA has sent reinforcement to Islamists. “This cannot be tolerated. If it is necessary, we will wipe out the PKK,” he said, referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
Viewed as the largest Kurdish political and military formation in Syria, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) dismissed Akidi’s statement as “unjustified.”
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, PYD spokesman Nawaf Khalil said that reasons for Akidi’s calls to fight Kurds are unknown and that “the PKK has clearly announced that the Syrian regime and its supporters have lost legitimacy.”
“This attack is meant to be against the entire Kurdish region on the pretext of fighting the PKK,” Khalil said, stressing that Kurds “will fight those who attack them.”
The PYD, the Syrian franchise of the Turkish PKK, is believed to stand as the largest political and military formation in Syria and has assumed control over the Kurdish-dominated areas to the east and north of Syria since July 2012, setting up checkpoints and running public affairs.
Khalil reaffirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat the PYD’s despire to topple the regime, as well as its opposition to the Al-Qaeda-linked rebel groups such as the Al-Nusra Front.
“We did not want to go into battles with the Islamists, particularly after the agreement we signed with them, but today they are laying siege to us in addition to the siege laid by the Syrian regime on the one hand and Turkey along the borders on the other,” the PYD spokesman said.
He added: “The stances of the opposition and the FSA serve the interests of the dictatorial regime. They should have looked for a formula to deal, cooperate and even coordinate on the ground with the Kurdish side in the face of the regime’s aggression.”
“We work to topple the regime and coordinate with all sides, but we will not accept the Islamists, the regime army or the FSA entering our area.”
In other news, the UN said it would probe reports opposition fighters committed a massacre against troops loyal to Assad in Khan Al-Assal, after seizing the strategic town from the regime last week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement.
After examining videos documenting the atrocities committed by rebels, Pillay said: “These images, if verified, suggest that executions were committed in Khan Al-Assal,” calling for a “thorough independent investigation to establish whether war crimes have been committed.”
She also warned that all sides in Syria “should not think they are immune from prosecution.”