11 killed as Syria rebels, Kurds clash: Watchdog

AFP , Sunday 26 May 2013

Fighting between Syrian Kurdish militants and rebels near the Syrian-Turkish border kills 11

Kurdish militants battled rebels in northern Syria on Sunday near the border with Turkey a day after deadly clashes killed 11 insurgents, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

The latest fighting came as Syrian Kurds, long oppressed under President Bashar al-Assad's regime, said in Istanbul that they wanted to take part in peace conference which the US and Russia hope to convene in Geneva next month.

Sunday's fighting in Ras al-Ein village near the border with Turkey pitted militants of the People's Protection Committees (YPG) -- armed group of the main Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) -- against rebels battling to overthrow Assad's regime, the Observatory said.

"It came after an attack launched last night (Saturday) by the (jihadist) Al-Nusra Front against an YPG position and abductions by Kurds of the jihadists," the Observatory said in a statement.

"Fighting last night in the Afrin region between PYD armed wing the People's Protection Committees (YPG) and rebels left 11 dead and 20 wounded" among rebel forces, the Britain-based watchdog said.

A YPG militant told AFP that the fighting erupted when the pro-Muslim Brotherhood armed group, Liwa al-Tawhid, "stormed our village and demanded they take over one of our checkpoints".

"They accused YPG fighters of allowing resident of Nabel (a majority Shiite village) safe passage across the checkpoints," the Kurdish militant said.

Most of the rebels forces are Sunni Muslims, while Assad, who they are trying to overthrow, belong to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

The Kurdish militant said that Liwa al-Tawhid insurgents pounded their positions, wounding several YPG fighters.

The Observatory also reported clashes in the same area of Aleppo province several days previously at a checkpoint installed by rebel forces south of the town of Kubani, without saying whether there were any casualties.

Since the beginning of Syria's uprising more than two years ago, the Kurds, who make up about 15 percent of the country's population, have tried to stay out of the fighting, stopping both rebel and regime forces from entering their areas.

However in some areas, such as the Sheikh Maqsud district of Aleppo city, rebels and Kurdish groups have joined together to fight forces loyal to the Syrian president.

In Istanbul, meanwhile, the head of the Kurdish National Council, Bahzad Ibrahim, said efforts were underway to resolve the fighting between Kurdish militants and rebels.

And PYD member Sherwan Ibrahim said Kurds want to take part in a peace conference on Syria along side the umbrella Syria opposition National Coalition or even independently.

The Coalition is meeting in Istanbul to decide whether to attend the Geneva conference.

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