Syria Islamist-Kurd warring ends as dissident mediates

Arab anti-regime rebels and Kurdish militias in northern Syria have ended three months of hostilities following a fragile agreement brokered by prominent dissident Michel Kilo, a Christian.

Clashes have erupted periodically between the two sides since Islamist rebels entered the city of Ras al-Ain last November and seized a strategic crossing on the Turkish border.

The majority Kurdish city was once home to some 55,000 people of mixed ethnic and religious origin, among them Arab Sunnis, Christians and Armenians.

Activists say some 65 percent of the city’s residents have fled because of the fighting, and those who have stayed behind have little access to food and other essential goods.

Negotiations led by Kilo, an independent, long-time opponent of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, began 15 days ago and ended with a weekend accord between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) military council and the Kurdish popular committees.

“The FSA signed on behalf of all rebel groups except (jihadist) Al-Nusra Front, which did not take part in the last round of fighting. Still Al-Nusra took part in the talks and guarantees the agreement will not be broken,” Kilo told AFP by phone.

Kilo also said Ghuraba al-Sham, the second-most powerful Islamist rebel group after Al-Nusra in the area, supported the agreement.

The most critical point in the pact was the “complete withdrawal of military forces from and displays of arms in the city”.

“There are very few fighters left in Ras al-Ain now,” Kilo said.

Kurdish fighters and rebels meanwhile agreed to join forces against troops loyal to Assad.

“We unite our energies in the battle of dignity against a bloody, authoritarian regime to build a free Syria in which all members of society can exercise their legitimate rights,” said a statement issued on Sunday.

The rebels were represented by Colonel Hassan al-Abdullah of the FSA Military Council and Fahd al-Gaad of the Islamist Al-Nusra Front, and the Kurds by Juan Ibrahim of the popular defence committees, Mohammed Saleh Attia of the Kurdish National Council and several representatives from the Supreme Kurdish Authority.

North and northeast Syria are home to most of the country’s two million-strong Kurdish minority.

They have engaged carefully with the uprising against Assad, but have also resorted to arms to keep the rebels out of their regions, for fear of attracting the violence that has engulfed much of the country.

Rebels have frequently accused the Kurds of cooperating with the regime after government troops withdrew from their areas early on in the revolt without violence.

Sunday’s agreement is therefore a significant step, said Kilo, though he admitted “any accord in the world can suffer violations”.

Just one month ago, the Ras al-Ain branch of the Kurdish National Council had called on the Syrian opposition to intervene over the fierce rebel incursion.

“We felt we must do something to end this foolishness,” Kilo said.

“We told the (two sides) we can make a win-win situation … All combatants agreed to retreat from the city and fight the regime together,” he said.

A Kurdish activist from Ras al-Ain said the Kurdish parties were hopeful that the main opposition Syrian National Coalition would ensure the rebels honour their side of the bargain to allay residents’ fears.

“Hostilities ended between the two parties a week ago and since then things have been calm,” the activist, who gave his name as Havidar, told AFP via Skype. “There have been no confrontations following the agreement.”

But a prominent Kurdish anti-regime dissident told AFP by phone that the agenda of radical Islamists in Syria meant fighting could erupt again at any time.

“Ghuraba al-Sham believe all Kurds are pro-regime and not Islamic enough for their taste,” said Massoud Akko.

“Either side can break the agreement at any moment,” he warned, after taking part in the talks leading up to the accord.

“The FSA military council is not strong in the area, and its leadership has made contradicting statements in the past. From my point of view, this accord is empty.”


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