US-backed Kurds tighten siege of Syrian army-run enclaves in northeast

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US backed Kurdish-led forces tightened the siege on neighborhoods under the control of the Syrian government in two Kurdish-controlled cities in northeast Syria, officials from both sides said on Thursday.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said they took over about 10 government offices ranging from the local finance, grains and education branches in a zone in the heart of the city of Qamishli.

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The grouping of US-backed militias, which is dominated by the Kurdish YPG, also prevented for a sixth consecutive day the entry of wheat and fuel to the other zone in the city of Hasaka under control of Syrian government forces.

Most of the neighborhoods of the two biggest cities in northeastern Syria have been under SDF control since Syrian troops handed control to the Kurds in the early years of the 11-year war to fight mainly Sunni rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

The SDF also closed a highway leading to government-run Qamishli airport, two witnesses said - a crisis that the Kurdish led forces blame on Damascus for besieging the mainly Kurdish inhabited Sheikh Maqsoud district in the northern city of Aleppo since the beginning of the month.

Over 200,000 mainly Kurdish inhabitants live in the area.

Russian-mediated talks failed on Tuesday to defuse the crisis with the YPG insisting that the Syrian army must lift restrictions that have prevented trucks carrying food and wheat to the Aleppo enclave it administers.

“The Syrian regime has been for a while holding back food supplies to Sheikh Maqsoud in an attempt to exert political pressures on the SDF,” said Mohammad Abdul Sattar Ibrahim, a Syrian analyst in touch with Kurdish officials.

Russian forces have, however, consolidated their military foothold in the area where most of Syria’s oil and wheat is produced after Turkish threats prompted the YPG to seek Russia’s help to reinforce frontlines with Turkey-backed rebels.

Syrian officials have accused the SDF of starving people.

“The SDF are preventing entry of wheat, foodstuffs and fuel that are needed to run bakeries and this is adding to the hardship of people in these difficult times,” Ghassan Khalil, the governor of Hasaka told state media.

The YPG and Syrian authorities have for years been tacit allies, with lucrative oil and commercial links between them.

Assad has in the past two years accused the YPG of treachery and helping Washington lay its hands on Syria’s oil and wheat production. Syria also accuses the Kurds of harboring separatist ambitions, which the YPG denies.

Read more: Kurdish forces kill 16 ISIS members in Syria prison clashes: Monitor

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