Kurdish forces have been fighting pro-Bashar al-Assad militiamen in northeast Syria, killing 21, according to a Syrian Kurdish official.
“Five members of the Kurdish internal security force, the Asayish, were also killed in the fighting in Qamishli which the official said was the second most violent between the government and Kurdish forces since the Syria conflict began in 2011,” reports Reuters.
“A Reuters witness saw at least 40 members of the pro-government militia surrendering to the Kurdish forces in the city after a battle for a prison where they were holed up on Thursday. Heavy gunfire could be heard in the city,” it adds.
Qamishli is primarily controlled by U.S. backed Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) security forces known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which took control when the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011.
“More than 21 dead from regime forces of Qamishli as a result of clashes and regime attacks, with five Asayish fighters martyrs,” the Syrian Kurdish official told Reuters.
The pro-Assad troops could not be reached for comment, notes the news outlet.
“Syrian Kurdish groups now control wide areas of northern Syria where they have set up their own government,” reports Reuters.
“The main Kurdish groups and their allies aim to finalize plans within six months for an autonomous political federation in northern Syria, pressing ahead despite the objections of foreign governments which fear Syria’s disintegration,” it adds.
Since the uprising started in Syria, Kurdish and Assad forces have mostly avoided confrontation.
“Syria’s opposition accuses Kurdish groups that control the northeast of cooperating with President Bashar al-Assad,” notes Reuters. “They deny this.”
“The Kurdish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not an official Asayish spokesman, said Kurdish forces had seized three positions from government forces in the course of the fighting, including the prison,” it adds.
According to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which uses a network of ground sources to monitor the Syrian conflict, the clashes began after the Asayish stopped a car carrying pro-Assad militiaman.
The monitor group also reported a possible car bomb explosion in the region.
Reuters reports, “The Kurdish official said the violence was triggered by Syrian government arrests and attacks on civilians.”
“The Syrian government still controls a few areas in the city center, and its airport,” it adds.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports that clashes between the Asayish and pro-regime troops erupted on Wednesday.
“It resumed at around midday on Thursday, an AFP reporter said, adding that loud blasts from heavy weapons were heard across the city,” adds the report.