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Fierce fighting between Syria
Kurds, pro-Assad forces

Syrian jets have reportedly conducted unprecedented airstrikes in Hasakeh, where at least 16 combatants from both sides have been killed in clashes.

Kurdish troops engaged in fighting against pro-Assad forces. (Facebook/Asayish Rojava)

BEIRUT – Deadly clashes have reignited between Kurdish security forces and pro-regime fighters in Syria’s Hasakeh, where both sides maintain an uneasy power-sharing agreement.

 

Explosions and heavy gunfire rocked the provincial capital starting late Wednesday night following the collapse of tenuous ceasefire put in place after at least 16 combatants from both sides were killed the day before in the worst bout of violence between Kurds and regime forces to hit the northeastern city.

 

“A number of [quarters] in Hasakeh are continuing to witness clashes of varying violence between the Kurdish Asayesh internal security forces (Asayesh) on one side and National Defense Force members and loyalist gunmen on the other,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported midday Thursday.

 

Fighting

Kurdish combatants engaging pro-Assad forces Thursday in Hasakeh. (Facebook/Asayish Rojava)

 

As the fighting spiraled out of control, reports emerged that Syrian jets conducted bombing runs on the city, which would mark the first time regime forces struck targets in its sporadic fights with Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria.

 

The ANHA news agency—which is close to Democratic Union Party (PYD) that exerts control over de-facto autonomous Kurdish areas in northern Syria—reported that jets were bombing “residential areas” of the city, while the pro-rebel Enab Baladi outlet said that Asayesh targets were hit by the unprecedented airstrikes.

 

Syrian Kurdish forces control large swathes of Hasakeh, leaving pro-regime forces in control of a pocket of territory stretching southeastward from the center of the provincial capital.

 

According to the ANHA news agency, fighting restarted late Wednesday when pro-regime forces attacked Kurdish checkpoints along a series of points along the edge of the government’s zone of control: including near the Marsho gas station just north of the city’s municipal stadium, the nearby motorway leading to Qamishli, and areas around the Assyrian Church of the East, near Hasakeh’s train station.

 

The news agency claimed that both official government troops and loyalist “mercenaries” were taking part in the fighting.

 

Syrian state media, for its part, has made no mention of the fighting, although a local pro-Assad news outlet published a flurry of posts on its Facebook page regarding the battles, going so far as saying that Syrian army tanks had entered the fray, although their claim was not reported elsewhere.

 

When the current round of clashes first kicked off on Tuesday, the 5th Brigade of the Syrian Border Guard Force (Hajana) issued a statement admitting it took part in the fighting.

 

Residential areas shelled

 

Damage

A photo purports to show damage caused by a mortar strike near a house in a Kurdish-populated area of Hasakeh. (Facebook/Asayish Rojava)

 

As fighting continued to rage Thursday, the SOHR said that it received “reports of casualties” between both sides while civilians fled from the urban frontlines as shops shuttered for the day.

 

“The sounds of explosions continue to ring out in the city,” the monitoring NGO tracking developments in war-Syria said, citing sources as saying that regime forces were shelling areas controlled by Kurdish forces.

 

The Kurdish Asayish issued a statement that mortar rounds hit the Mufti neighborhood of the town, while also publicizing pictures showing damage caused to residential buildings in the quarter.

 

Meanwhile, the pro-Assad Hasakeh News Network said the Kurdish forces bombarded regime controlled areas of the city, causing fires to break out in homes and killing one civilian.

 

Burning

A picture purports to show a car set alight by Kurdish shelling. (image via Hasakeh News Network)

 

The SOHR, for its part, reported that pro-regime forces launched a number of mortar rounds starting midnight Wednesday night that hit the residential area near the city’s Assyrian Church of the East.

 

At least 16 killed in Tuesday clashes

 

Fighting Tuesday in Hasakeh. (videa via ANHA news agency)

 

The current bout of violence first ignited on Tuesday, however the exact causes of the fighting remain murky.

 

The Asayesh has yet to issue an official statement on the start of the clashes, while the ANHA news agency insisted in its reports that Kurdish troops and civilians were fired upon by pro-regime troops, leading to the fighting.


Meanwhile, the regime’s 5th Border Guard Regiment blamed the fighting on the Kurds, saying they “conducted a treacherous attack against an army checkpoint while firing bullets within the market in order to destabilize security in the city.”

 

The SOHR said that the fighting kicked off following a series of reciprocal arrests conducted by pro-Assad militiamen and the Asayesh.

 

Tuesday’s clashes left 14 pro-regime troops dead, according to the ANHA, while the SOHR issued a lower death toll of 8. Both sources were in agreement that two Asayesh fighters were killed.

 

Hasakeh notables swung into action amid the worst clashes to rock the city, and mediated a short-lived ceasefire that collapsed Wednesday night.

 

Syrian regime forces only maintain control over central areas of the provincial capital after Kurds swept back a failed ISIS offensive in July 2015 and took quarters of the city formerly under regime control.

 

Intermittent bouts of violence have erupted between Kurds and pro-regime forces in Hasakeh, however none of them, up until now, have been as violent as the late April 2016 battles in nearby Qamishli in what was the worst fighting between the two sides since the beginning of the Syrian war.

 

The Syrian army maintains control over Qamishli International Airport—allowing it to resupply its forces there—as well as other areas south of the city. In the city itself, pro-regime forces and Kurds have maintained a tenuous power-sharing agreement since 2012.

 

Despite the modus vivendi in Qamishli, intermittent clashes have erupted in the past year between Kurds and the Assyrian Gozarto Protection Force as well as National Defense Force militiamen.

 

While previous firefights were quickly contained, the latest round of fighting that began on April 20 escalated and left at least 20 pro-Assad militiamen, 5 Kurdish security personnel and a number of civilians dead. 

 

NOW's English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Amin Nasr translated Arabic-language material. 

Kurdish troops engaged in fighting against pro-Assad forces. (Facebook/Asayish Rojava)

The sounds of explosions continue to ring out in the city.