ALEPPO, Syria, Feb. 9 (UPI) — Kurdish rebels in Syria’s Aleppo province have occupied two villages at the request of local Arabs seeking refuge from Russian and Syrian airstrikes, according to activists.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Tuesday forces with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, occupied the villages of Deir Jamal and Mar’anaz.
The villages are located in the northern Aleppo province, where an offensive by the Syrian military and Russian warplanes has prompted thousands of refugees to flee toward the Turkish border.
SOHR, a Britain-based monitoring group, said the residents of both villages asked for the Kurdish occupation in a bid to avoid constant air attacks.
The YPG is part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-supported rebel coalition that includes Arab and Assyrian groups. The SDF mainly operates north of Raqqa, the self-declared capital of the Islamic State, and al-Hasakah province in Syria’s northeast.
The group has also been reported in Aleppo province, where the Syrian military, Western-backed Free Syrian Army rebels and Islamic militants with groups such as al-Qaida’s Nusra Front and IS are engaged in complex multi-sided fighting.
Some rebel commanders said the YPG was not being bombed and this proved the group was colluding with Damascus and Moscow, but Kurdish officials denied the charge.
Former FSA chief Gen. Salim Idris, who provides strategic advice to moderate militias, told Voice of America the YPG and its Arab allies in the SDF, with support from Russian warplanes, were launching so-far unsuccessful attacks against the Menagh air base, which anti-Assad rebels captured after a lengthy siege in August 2013.
SOHR quoted multiple sources as saying Tuesday the YPG had not taken control of the air base due to a dispute between two fighters from different families in the village of Menagh over whether to hand the village over to the Kurds.
YPG commanders denied working with pro-Assad forces and noted Kurdish fighters had captured a road south of Deir Jamal, thus preventing regime troops from advancing on Tall Rifaat — a town north of Nubbul and al-Zahra, where government forces broke two rebel sieges and cut off a main rebel supply line from Turkey to Aleppo City last week.
Kurdish forces also reportedly transferred several Sunni Arab families fleeing the fighting in Aleppo to safety in the YPG-held city of Afrin.
A source in the YPG told SOHR on Monday the undertaking would “prove to everyone that Syria is for all its citizens, and that the YPG cares about the Kurdish-Arab brotherhood and is not fighting Arabs as promoted by the media.”
The Tuesday reports come one day after SDF forces reportedly killed four IS militants near the Tishreen Dam in the northeastern countryside of Aleppo, where the rebel coalition, with support from U.S. airstrikes, has repelled multiple IS assaults since taking the dam in late December.