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Syria Kurds denounce
mysterious Arab group

The Syrian Arab Jazira warned Kurds against "separatist projects" and vowed to defend the interests of the Assad regime.

Kurdish YPG fighters outside Tel Hamis (AFP/Delil Souleiman)

BEIRUT – Amid their campaign against ISIS, Syrian Kurds have denounced a mysterious announcement of the formation of an Arab fighting force in the Hasakeh province, calling it a regime ploy.

 

On Monday, a group calling itself the Syrian Arab Jazira issued a statement that it would seek to “preserve then Syrian Arab quality of the Hasakeh Governorate and the Jazira [region] in general.”

 

The statement came as the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) armed forces have pressed a successful offensive against ISIS in Hasakeh Governorate, which is populated by a mix of Kurds, Assyrian and Armenian Christians, and Arabs.

 

People’s Protection Unit (YPG) fighters last week seized the ISIS-stronghold of Tel Hamis, bolstering the PYD’s position in the northeastern Syrian region, which the party declared as an autonomous Kurdish canton known as Cizire (Jazira in Arabic) in 2014.

 

Despite the Kurdish moves for autonomy, the Syrian regime continues to maintain a presence in the border town of Qamishli as well as the governorate’s capital Hasakeh, where the government uses a local tribal militia called the Maghawir (Commandos) as a proxy.  

 

The Syrian Arab Jazira group touted its support for the Syrian regime in its founding statement and “issued an implicit warning to the Kurds, saying that anyone behind “the separatist project… will not be safe and secure.”

 

Kurds fired back a day later, with the PYD-appointed foreign minister of the Cizire Canton saying that the “statement aids the interests of the Syrian regime.”

 

“It is a card the regime is trying to [use to] mobilize [other groups] in [Hasakeh] against the Kurds,” Saleh Kado told Rudaw news agency.

 

The politician added that Syrian Kurdish officials had contacted local Arab tribes, which denied issuing the statement.

 

“The chauvinism of certain Arab actors will not serve the [interests] of the groups that have coexisted historically in the area,” Kado said, warning that there would “be a strong reaction” by the area’s inhabitants against the people who had issued the statement.

 

“Syrian Arab Jazira”

 

Little is known about the Syrian Arab Jazira group, which has not followed up on its founding statement and has no known social media presence, unlike the myriad of other organizations operating in Hasakeh.

 

Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reported Monday—the same day Syrian Arab Jazira issued its statement—that the group was about to begin its operations.

 

A source from inside the group told Al-Akhbar that it “will begin work soon in Syria’s Jazira,” and that it “will announce its structure and leadership later.”

 

The source said the organization is “a group of residents from all areas in Jazira who truly care about their homeland. They are protecting their identity and their presence.”

 

“They will work to protect the unity of Syrian territory, especially in the Governorates of Hasakeh and Raqqa. [They will] protect [Syria] from terrorism and any separatist projects that target it.”

 

The group in its statement emphasized its support for the Bashar al-Assad regime, saying it was seeking to “preserve the unity of the Syrian Jazira’s territory in its entirety under the flag of the Syrian Arab Republic, and its constitution, laws and leadership.”

 

The mission statement added that its goal was to “preserve the area’s economic resources and riches, and maintain their administration and investment in them by the Syrian Arab Republic’s institutions and laws.”

 

“As Arabs we represent the largest social group in the area, reaching 70% of its inhabitants, and we will not allow any actor, group or party, no matter which, to take control of our resources, our lives and our riches. “

 

Arab-Kurdish tension

 

The formation of Syrian Arab Jazira comes amid heightened tension between Arabs and Kurds as the latter continue their advances in the ethnically-mixed Hasakeh governorate.

 

Al-Akhbar reported that “a number of actors have increasingly accused the YPG of committing violations against civilians in the areas [around] Tel Brak and Tel Hamis,” which are populated by Arabs.

 

“Pictures have circulated on social media networks of Kurdish fighters [in front] of burnt out houses in the villages near Tel Hamis, which they said belonged to ISIS members or supporters,” the paper added.

 

On Monday, the opposition Shaam News Network said that YPG fighters had set alight a number of homes in an Arab village east of Tel Hamis, which was captured by the Kurds on Friday.

 

The YPG has denied carrying out any violations in Arab-populated areas, with a source telling Al-Akhbar  that “military operations were carried out with participation from tribespeople in the area and Sanadid Army members.”

 

“ISIS booby-traps civilian houses before it withdraws, which sometimes forces us to blow them up.”

 

The paper also cited the YPG source as saying that mistakes happen in war “and we will work to hold wrongdoers to account.”

Kurdish YPG fighters outside Tel Hamis (AFP/Delil Souleiman)

It is a card the regime is trying to [use to] mobilize [other groups] in [Hasakeh] against the Kurds.