Albin Szakola

Syria Kurds advance in north
Aleppo following regime victory

The YPG seized two villages near the Shiite towns of Nubl and Zahra.

Kurdish troops. (Facebook/Self Administration of the African Canton)

BEIRUT – Syrian Kurdish forces have advanced along the border of their de-facto autonomous Afrin canton west of Aleppo after pro-regime forces notched a major success in the nearby Shiite villages of Nubl and Zahra.


The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Thursday that the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) had taken control of Al-Ziyara and Khuraybika—two villages in the Shirawa region of the Afrin canton, which is administered by the YPG's parent organization the Democratic Union Party (PYD).


According to the SOHR, the two villages, which were previously controlled by "Islamist factions," had been "subjected to shelling two days previously, which caused deaths and injuries in the village of Al-Ziyara."


A former spokesperson for the Afrin canton's government told ARA news that the YPG had entered the area in order "to answer the calls of locals," in reference to ethnic Kurds living in the two villages.


"YPG units took control of the two villages in order to secure the safety and security of the civilians," Rezan Heddo told the Erbil-based outlet, which closely covers Kurdish-related news in Syria.


He also said that the Kurdish military move was a consequence "of the circumstances that northern Aleppo countryside is passing through."


On Wednesday, Syrian regime troops backed by Iraqi Shiite militias and Hezbollah broke the three-year rebel siege on Nubl and Zahraa, which are located only three kilometers south of the two villages seized by YPG troops.


The following day, pro-regime forces also swept into Mayer, a village northwest of Nubl and Zahraa that is closer to the newly expanded Kurdish front-lines on the edges of Afrin.


Situated in the northwest of the Aleppo province along Turkey's border, the Afrin Canton is isolated from the other two cantons—Cizire and Kobane—that Kurdish authorities declared autonomous in January 2014.


Afrin, which borders Turkey to the west and north, has been blockaded by Ankara, while Islamist rebels have besieged the canton from the east.  


In December 2015, the Afrin government declared a "state of emergency," saying the canton was threatened by Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham amid the raging battles in northern Aleppo between the YPG's Arab allies and the Marea Operations Room.


The YPG looks set to seize further villages on the edge of the Afrin canton, a flashpoint region where Islamist rebel groups—including the Al-Nusra Front—has regularly battled Kurdish troops.


On Wednesday, the pro-YPG ANHA news agency reported that residents of Tamoura—which is located south of Nubl and Zahra—had called on Kurdish forces to enter the village.


"Tamoura residents call on the YPG's fighters to liberate the village from the mercenaries of Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham [so that they can be] delivered from the injustice and oppression practiced against them," an unnamed Tamoura resident told the outlet. 


Although the YPG has yet to make a move on Tamoura, ANHA's report closely mirrored the justification of protecting civilians given for the Kurdish entry into Al-Ziyara and Khuraybika.


"Since the mercenaries of Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham entered the village, dozens of civilians, who have fallen victim to the shelling between the mercenaries and regime forces, have been killed and wounded," the report claimed.


Albin Szakola tweets (@AlbinSzakola). Ullin Hope translated the Arabic-language source material.

Kurdish troops in the Afrin canton. (Facebook/Self Administration of the African Canton)

YPG units took control of the two villages in order to secure the safety and security of the civilians.