Clashes between Syrian fighters pose challenge for Turkey, U.S.
Groups that have received support from the United States or its allies have turned their guns on each other in a northern corner of Syria
Groups that have received support from the United States or its allies have turned their guns on each other in a northern corner of Syria, highlighting the difficulties of mobilizing forces on the ground against ISIS.
As they fought among themselves before reaching a tenuous ceasefire on Thursday, ISIS meanwhile edged closer to the town of Azaz that was the focal point of the clashes near the border with Turkey.
Combatants on one side are part of a new U.S.-backed alliance that includes a powerful Kurdish militia, and to which Washington recently sent military aid to fight ISIS.
Their opponents in the flare-up include rebels who are widely seen as backed by Turkey and who have also received support in a U.S.-backed aid program.
Despite the ceasefire, reached after at least a week of fighting in which neither side appeared to have made big gains, trust remains low: each side blamed the other for the start of fighting and said it expected to be attacked again. A monitoring group reported there had still been some firing.
The fighting is likely to increase concern in Turkey about growing Kurdish sway near its border.
It also poses a new challenge for the U.S.-led coalition which, after more than a year of bombing ISIS in Syria, is trying to draw on Syrian groups to fight on the ground but finding many have little more in common than a mutual enemy.
Azaz controls access to the city of Aleppo from the nearby border with Turkey. It also lies in an area coveted by ISIS, which advanced to within 10 km (six miles) of the town on Tuesday and took another nearby village later in the week.
The fighting pitched factions of the Free Syrian Army, supported by Turkey and known collectively as the Levant Front, against the YPG and Jaysh al-Thuwwar - both part of the Democratic Forces of Syria alliance backed by Washington.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that monitors the conflict in Syria, said Levant Front was supported in the fighting by the Ahrar al-Sham Islamist group and the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.
Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said the rebels had received "new support, which is coming in continuously" from Turkey, a U.S. ally in the fight against ISIS.
"Turkish groups against U.S. groups -- it's odd," he said.
Although the YPG has been the most effective partner on the ground for theUnited States in the fight against ISIS, Turkey does not want tosee its influence expand further, even if the group is fighting ISIS.
The United States and Turkey have for months been talking of a joint effort to clear ISIS from the remaining part of the frontier, but there has been no sign of progress.
The clashes were in villages between predominantly Arab Azaz and the majority-Kurdish town of Afrin further southwest. A few dozen people were killed, including 13 civilians, and small tracts of territory have changed hands.
The insurgents blamed the Kurdish forces and their allies for trying to advance. But a Democratic Forces of Syria spokesman said Islamist groups had attacked first under the pretext that his group was a front for the Kurds.
In Aleppo city, insurgents shelled a Kurdish-inhabited area, and the YPG fired from there at the rebel supply route that leads from Aleppo to Azaz and Turkey, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The rivalry is stoked by long-standing rebel suspicion of the Kurdish agenda.
"The Levant Front and the others are in dispute over who should control the Azaz area, and so you have this fighting between them, and the Jaysh al-Thuwwar and the (YPG)," said a rebel leader familiar with the situation. "This is strife between Jaysh al-Thuwwar and the Kurds, with the FSA factions."
Levant Front commander Abu Ahmad al Jazrawi said he hoped Thursday's ceasefire would hold. But if the YPG and their allies "try another time to raid our areas we will not hesitate to attack them again," he warned.
The spokesman for the Democratic Forces of Syria said most of the fighting on its side was being done by non-Kurdish forces, though YPG fighters were reinforcing them from nearby Afrin.
A Levant Front fighter told Reuters the fighting began when the YPG and Jaysh al-Thuwwar seized three villages in the Azaz area. "They cut our main supply route," he said. "We then succeeded in evicting these forces."
Rebels say the YPG has been emboldened by Russian air strikes in Syria that have mostly hit groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad, and are not targeting the Kurds, whose fight with ISIS has been praised by President Vladimir Putin.
The Syrian Kurds, who have established their own government in areas of northern Syria they control, have been accused by President Bashar al-Assad's opponents of cooperating with him during the 4-1/2-year-old conflict - a charge they deny.
The spokesman for the Democratic Forces of Syria blamed the flare-up on Ahrar al-Sham and the Nusra Front, which he said had initiated hostilities against Jaysh al-Thuwwar positions on the pretext that it was a front for the Kurds.
"Ahrar al-Sham and the Levant Front were dragged behind the lie of the Nusra Front," said Talal Ali Selo, the spokesman, an ethnic Turkmen who is a member of Jaysh al-Thuwwar. The YPG were involved in the fighting on their side, he said.
Selo said he did not trust those groups to keep the peace.
"In my personal opinion, they will not remain committed" to the ceasefire, he said.
The Observatory reported even after it was signed that there was firing in the area, and one rebel group that had been involved in fighting said it was not party to the truce.
Germany approves anti-ISIS military action in SyriaGermany will not join countries like Britain, France, the United States and Russia in conducting airstrikes Middle East
Kerry: Syria government, rebels could cooperate vs ISIS before Assad goesJohn Kerry said it might be possible for the Syrian government and rebels to cooperate against ISIS without al-Assad having first left power News
Facebook removed suspect profile after California shootingContent celebrating leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) would be removed under the company’s standards Digital
U.S. official: ISIS oil smuggling to Turkey insignificantThe amount of oil smuggled into Turkey from areas of Syria controlled by ISIS is economically insignificant Middle East
Apparent U.S. coalition raids kill 32 ISIS fighters in SyriaThe air strikes targeted ISIS’s Syrian stronghold in Syria’s Raqqa province Middle East
Chicken-and-egg question over Syria: Assad or ISIS first?The news of the past few days was full of debate over whether the UK should extend its air strikes into Syria in its pursuit of ISIS. After the Paris ... World
UK set to vote on striking ISIS in SyriaAfter nearly 10 hours of debate in parliament, British PM David Cameron said he believes British warplanes should also be tackling ISIS in Syria World News
U.N. experts: ISIS in Libya hampered by lack of fightersAround 800 Libyans fighting with ISIS in Libya had previously fought with the group in Syria and Iraq Middle East
Aid delivered to rebel-held area of Syrian city: GovernorHumanitarian aid deliveries to a rebel-held district of the central Syrian city of Homs has begun under a deal with insurgents Middle East
Syrian army source: rebels make heavy use of TOW missilesA Syrian military source said rebels are making heavy use of U.S.-made anti-tank missiles paid for by Saudi Arabia and supplied via Turkey Middle East
Editors charged over claims Turkey supplied arms to Syrian rebelsReporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 149th out of 180 in its 2015 press freedom index last month Print
Israel says 90 pct of Syria’s ballistic missiles used up on rebelsSyrian opposition activists say Damascus’ army has fired dozens of devastating Scud-type missiles at rebel-held areas Middle East
Syrian rebel group says studying local ceasefire proposalJaish al-Islam group said the ceasfire proposal had been presented by the mediator to the former head of a sharia board Middle East
Turkey-backed Syria rebels take two border villages from ISIS: reportSyrian rebels backed by Turkey and the United States have seized two villages from ISIS Middle East