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Albin Szakola & Ullin Hope

Syria Kurds' ally declares Aleppo "military zone"

The last supply line into opposition-held Aleppo has come under threat amid worsening battles between a newly formed rebel coalition on one side and Jaysh al-Thuwar and Kurdish forces on the other.

Jaysh al-Thuwar. (Facebook/Jaysh al-Thuwar)

BEIRUT – A close ally of the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) has declared Aleppo and its northern countryside a "military zone" after fierce battles erupted outside a Kurdish district of Syria's second city.

 

Jaysh al-Thuwar—an ethnic Arab fighting group in the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces—announced Tuesday evening that "all of Aleppo and its northern countryside is a military zone and we will take procedures to protect the interests of our forces and our people."

 

These "procedures," the group said, "allow us, in view of the fact that we are in a military zone in Aleppo and its countryside, to consider [targeting] any interest, force, front or vehicle within [the area] we have defined," the dramatic statement warned.

 

Jaysh al-Thuwar also said rebels in Aleppo were fighting on behalf of the Al-Nusra Front, an increasingly common accusation used not only by the group but their Kurdish allies in recent weeks.

 

Tensions have ratcheted up between Jaysh al-Thuwar and armed opposition groups in Aleppo over the past two weeks since the former—alongside Kurdish troops—rolled back anti-Syrian regime rebels from a number of their positions in a now besieged corridor of territory north of Aleppo near the Turkish border.

 

The YPG and Jaysh al-Thuwar's advances—including the seizure of the Mennagh airbase and Tal Rifaat in recent days—have prompted Turkish shelling, and on Wednesday Ankara once again warned it was considering establishing a "safe zone" in northern Aleppo, including around the border town of Aazaz which is currently ringed by YPG and Jaysh al-Thuwar troops.

 

Syrian rebel groups have accused the two fighting forces of coordinating their offensive with Damascus and Russia at the expense of the "revolution," while the Kurds and their allies insist they are "rescuing" villages from Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham.

 

Aleppo clashes between Jaysh al-Thuwar and newly formed Jaysh Halab

 

Overnight Monday, clashes erupted in the city of Aleppo itself, with newly united rebel factions fighting Jaysh al-Thuwar in the Bustan al-Pasha and Halak districts east of the YPG-dominated Sheikh Maqsood quarter.

 

Nine rebel factions—including Ahrar al-Sham, two independent Islamist groups, and six FSA-affiliated factions—on Monday joined forces to form the Jaysh Halab coalition under the leadership of Hashem al-Sheikh, the former leader of Ahrar al-Sham.

 

Jaysh al-Thuwar declared that its forces in Bustan al-Pasha had been "subjected to a new treachery and a customary aggression from the factions of black poison and their lackeys who call themselves Free Syrian Army but have sold their honor, principles and affiliation for the sole of a shoe."

 

"The factions that have pledged their allegiance to Al-Qaeda and work according its orders are fractions [that bring] shame on the revolution… the revolution is not honored by the presence of dwarves who take their orders from Tora Bora," the fiery statement added.

 

For its part the Nusra Front has made no comment on the formation of Jaysh Halab and press reports have given no indication that the Al-Qaeda-affiliate has any official role in the new alliance.

 

Vital rebel supply line in the balance

 

Fierce clashes continued to rage overnight Tuesday around Aleppo's Sheikh Maqsood, with fighting spreading through the outskirts of the district while the Castello Highway north of the city came under heavy fire.

 

Also known as "Death Road," the Castello Highway spans the northern edges of Aleppo. Since regime forces cut off rebel supply lines leading southward into the city from Turkey, the dangerous thoroughfare has served as the only supply line into its rebel-held western sectors.

 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Wednesday that clashes were raging in Bustan al-Pasha to the east of Sheikh Maqsood, as well as Bani Zayed to the southeast of the district and Castello to the north.

 

A rebel fighter involved in the clashes told ARA news that the Syrian Democratic Forces—which include the YPG and Jaysh al-Thuwar—had "launched a fierce assault on the 16th Infantry Division's positions on the outskirts of the Castello Road [area], the neighborhoods of Bani Zayed and Al-Ashrafieh, the Al-Shuqeif Road and the Youth Residence, causing fierce clashes to break out."

 

"[The Syrian Democratic Forces] has managed to capture a number of buildings overlooking the Castello Road," he added.

 

In turn, the pro-rebel Smart News reported Wednesday morning that YPG forces based in Sheikh Maqsood had opened heavy fire on the Castello Road, without going into further details.

 

For its part, the YPG-affiliated Hawar News said that battles were raging around Sheikh Maqsood, and that the Kurdish district had come under fatal shelling. However, the news agency made no mention of battles in the Castello Road area.​

A Jaysh al-Thuwar position west of Aazaz. (Facebook/Jaysh al-Thuwar)

These "procedures," the group said, "allow us, in view of the fact that we are in a military zone in Aleppo and its countryside, to consider [targeting] any interest, force, front or vehicle within [the area] we have defined."