QAMISHLI, SYRIA: Clashes between Kurdish forces and regime fighters in the divided northeastern city of Qamishli killed 18 combatants Saturday, the Kurdish forces and a war monitor said.
The rare flare-up in the Kurdish-majority city near the Turkish border saw 11 regime fighters and seven Kurds killed, the Kurdish security forces known as Asayesh said in a statement. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, reported the same death toll for the fighting near a Kurdish checkpoint in the city.
The Asayesh said a regime “patrol opened fire on our forces with light and medium weapons, causing our forces to respond to this violation, which killed 11 regime fighters... and seven of our comrades”.
The Observatory said the shootout started when Asayesh members at the checkpoint asked regime fighters aboard a patrol vehicle to step out but they refused.
“When they did not comply, the shooting started on the car,” Observatory chief Rami Abdelrahman said, and the clashes escalated after both sides called in reinforcements.
An AFP correspondent at the scene saw empty camouflaged pick-up trucks in the street. Some bore bullet holes, while traces of blood were visible on the tarmac, he said.
Kurdish forces control most of Qamishli, but regime forces and allied militiamen hold part of the city and its airport.
Deadly clashes last broke out between Kurdish forces and pro-regime fighters in Qamishli in April 2016, but ended days later with a truce. That fighting began with a scuffle at a checkpoint and, according to Kurdish security forces, killed 17 civilians, 10 Kurdish fighters and 31 regime troops and militia.
With US-led support, Syria’s Kurds played a prominent role in the war against the Islamic State group during which they seized large swathes of northern and northeastern Syria where they have set up automous institutions.
The Damascus regime has vowed to reintegrate the Kurdish-held areas, by force if necessary. In late July, it opened talks with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces on a negotiated settlement.
Russia strikes on Syria’s Idlib heaviest: Russian air strikes on Syria’s last major rebel bastion Saturday were the “most violent” in a month since Damascus and its ally Moscow started threatening it with an imminent attack around a month ago, a monitor said.
Nearly 60 Russian air raids hit Idlib province near the Turkish border in less than three hours, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said. The Russian strikes and regime barrel bombing on south and southeastern areas of the province killed at least four civilians including two children, the Britain-based monitor said.
The raids targeted jihadist and rebel positions, some of which were empty and others in use, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
It was the “most violent” bombardment since August 10, when fierce bombardment killed at least 53 civilians including 28 children in Idlib and the neighbouring province of Aleppo, he said.
Idlib and nearby areas are largely controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, as well as rival rebels.
On Friday, Russian air strikes killed four hardline rebels and a shepherd in Idlib province, the Observatory said.
The spike in violence came after Russia, fellow regime ally Iran and rebel backer Turkey on Friday failed to immediately agree on a solution to avert an imminent government offensive. President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has upped its rhetoric on retaking control of Idlib and surrounding areas over the past month. The threats come after government forces seized back areas around the capital Damascus and in the south from rebels and jihadists earlier this year. More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria’s civil war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-Assad protests.
rebels planning imminent ‘provocation’: Russia on Saturday said it had “irrefutable information” Syrian rebels were planning an imminent “provocation” in Idlib province to justify Western intervention.
Moscow has long said anti-regime groups in the last major rebel bastion were planning an attack on civilians, as Russian and regime strikes on the province intensify.
“Those taking part in the staging of provocations should be fully ready by the evening of September 8,” the Russian military’s spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement. He said Moscow had evidence leaders of “terrorist” groups had gathered in Idlib and were being aided by the White Helmets volunteer rescue service.
In April, the US, France and Britain launched joint missile strikes on Syrian targets in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack in the town of Douma that left scores of people dead. Russia stuck by its ally Syria and angrily insisted the Douma attack was staged by the White Helmets.
President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has been repeatedly accused of using chemical weapons during the conflict, including in an attack that killed more than 80 people in the Idlib province town of Khan Sheikhun last year.
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