ISIS in bid to take
Hasakeh capital

Regime troops have engaged in fierce clashes with ISIS militants attacking Hasakeh from a number of fronts.

Hasakeh. (image via www.dotmsr.com)

BEIRUT – ISIS troops have launched an offensive on the northeastern provincial capital of Hasakeh, which the regime controls in an uneasy power-sharing agreement with Kurdish forces.


“Fierce clashes have remained ongoing between the Islamic State (ISIS) on one side and regime forces and pro-regime militants on the other, after a fierce attack launched by ISIS members from several fronts around the city of Hasakeh,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Monday.


The monitoring group said that the ISIS assault came on the heels off a bombing attack that targeted one of the regime’s positions to the south of the city.


“ISIS advanced in the area amid heavy exchanges of fire in which artillery shells, rockets and heavy machineguns were used by the two sides,” the report added.


“News has emerged that regime forces summoned reinforcements to the area while ISIS positions south of Hasakeh and the combat zones were subjected to air strikes by regime warplanes.”


The latest ISIS offensive comes amid the group’s reverses elsewhere in the province, where Kurdish fighters in late February seized the militant’s holdout in Tel Hamis north of Hasakeh.


ISIS has maintained positions south of the provincial capital since mid-2014, raising recurrent fears in Hasakeh that the group would seek to press an offensive on the city.


Battlefield situation


The ISIS attack on Hasakeh was launched over the weekend on multiple fronts outside the city, which has since witnessed heavy clashes.


On Sunday, ARA News cited an activist as saying that ISIS had attacked regime forces and militia members south of Hasakeh along the Abyad-Hasakeh road while other clashes erupted to the west.


“Fierce clashes, in which heavy weaponry was used, have raged close to the Panorama checkpoint at the city’s southern entrance,” Khalil Ahmad told the news outlet, which is close to Syria’s Kurds.


“Similar clashes raged close to the [nearby] juvenile prison.”


He added that ISIS had also “made plans a few days ago to take control of the driving school southwest of Hasakeh, where regime forces members are based.”


The activist also said that clashes had taken place to the west of Hasakeh, near the al-Sadiq junction and the village of Rafraf 10 kilometers west of [the city], while regime forces targeted concentrations of the group’s members in the area.”


As ISIS launched its attack, regime forces began heavy artillery shelling from the Jabal Kawkab regiment, 10 kilometers to the east of Hasakeh, on the group’s positions to the south and east of the city, according to ARA News.


Other activists from the city told ARA News that regime forces had “targeted the electricity company on the southern Deir Ezzor-Hasakeh Road with rocket launchers and artillery.”


On Monday, the Observatory reported that clashes were continuing on the western and southwestern edges of the city, leading to casualties in the ranks of both sides.


ARA News said later in the day that regime forces had taken control of the Al-Bitroul junction in Hasakeh’s outskirts, while troops in the city itself seized weapons and ammunition in the city's southern Ghuweiran area.


Kurdish-regime tension


Hasakeh has been under the joint control of regime forces and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) since the withdrawal of government forces from most other areas of the northeastern Syrian province in 2012.


The capital, which is the largest in the province with a population of nearly 200,000 people, hosts an ethnic mix of Arabs, Assyrians and Kurds between its five main districts.


The Syrian regime relies not only on its regular army to project power in Hasakeh, but also the Mughawir (commando) force consisting of local tribesmen, which was formed in late 2014 and which Kurds allege is aimed at combating their presence in the city.


The power arrangement in Hasakeh has been beset with tension; in January, Rudaw news reported that the regime’s top military officer in the provincial capital was seeking to dismantle YPG checkpoints in Kurdish areas of the city.


“Maj. Gen. Mohammed Khaddour has been trying for more than a month to remove all the checkpoints of the YPG and push them out of the city,” the Iraqi Kurdish outlet said.


The delicate situation exploded into fighting in mid-January when Kurdish forces in the city arrested twenty National Defense Force militia members after pro-regime elements had confiscated a number of Kurdish-owned cars.


“After the failure of negotiations between the Syrian regime and the YPG for the release of the 20 detainees held by the Kurdish forces, Syrian regime artillery bombed Mufti, a northern Hasakah district village with a Kurdish majority,” Rudaw cited a source as saying.


The fighting threatened to boil over further, but subsequent regime-YPG negotiations managed to quell the situation amid ISIS advances in the province, which have been mostly rolled back by Kurdish forces in the past three months.


ARA News reported Monday that tensions have continued to persist between Kurds and the regime in the city, particularly over the confiscation of Kurdish cars.


A civilian source “close to someone affected by the mid-January clashes” told the outlet that NDF militias “are still holding 12 cars belonging to Kurdish civilians.”


“They were confiscated on the checkpoints of those militias that are distributed inside the city and [impromptu] checkpoints just before the clashes that began at dawn on January 17.”


The source, who chose to remain anonymous, added that the militias had “refused, at first, to return those cars to their owners.”


“After negotiations with them, a sum of 300,000 Syrian pounds was set for the return of each car.”


“After more negotiations, through a person close to them, the sum was reduced to 200,000 Syrian pounds.”


According to the source the negotiations for the release of the impounded vehicles is ongoing and, so far, no money has been handed over.


“How can the Syrian regime and its supporters take pride in the fact that the flank of their army is stealing the property [of other people], looting places of worship, blackmailing civilians and detaining them [to extract] money or [on the basis] of their ID cards?” a political activist said in an interview with ARA News.

ISIS has launched a multi-pronged offensive on Hasakeh. (image via www.dotmsr.com)

News has emerged that regime forces summoned reinforcements to the area while ISIS positions south of Hasakeh and the combat zones were subjected to air strikes by regime warplanes.