After a brief respite, clashes between the PKK/YPG, a U.S.-backed terrorist group, and local Arab tribes opposing their hegemony in Syria’s north escalated again over the weekend and have now spread to Manbij from Deir el-Zour in the volatile region.
Syria’s northeastern areas are the scene of deadly attacks and clashes as the PKK terrorist group’s Syrian wing, the United States-backed YPG, tries to overpower ethnic Arab tribes resisting the PKK/YPG’s push for power.
The first clashes that erupted in the last week of August in Deir el-Zour province quickly ended but have re-sparked again over the past few days. On Saturday, more tribes joined the Arab opposition to the terrorists and clashes have reached the rural areas of Manbij, a city of tension between the Arab population and the PKK/YPG, which controls several areas in the region.
A surge is apparent in support of tribes fighting the terrorist group, which relies on U.S. support, from military equipment to training. A U.S.-led coalition force is the main ally of the PKK/YPG under the pretext of fighting Daesh, another terrorist group that had been active in the region until recently. Türkiye helped Syrian opposition forces clear out Syria’s north of Daesh and the PKK/YPG in a string of operations and is concerned over cross-border attacks by the PKK/YPG.
Forces composed of Arab tribes launched an operation on Saturday against areas occupied by the terrorist group around the Sajur River in southern Jarablus, a place cleared of terrorists earlier with the Turkish army’s support. The tribes claimed victory in several villages north of Manbij and a strategic hill in an offensive that pushed the PKK/YPG back to a central location in Manbij. In the meantime, opposition forces claimed Russian warplanes targeted villages reclaimed by the tribes, while the PKK/YPG recaptured two villages after separate clashes.
Clashes continue intermittently in areas along the Euphrates River in the east and southeast of Deir el-Zour. The terrorist group, meanwhile, dispatched reinforcements from Hassakeh and Raqqa provinces to Deir el-Zour. Deir el-Zour was an ethnic Arab province before the PKK/YPG, which draws support from elements of the local Kurdish population, captured several areas. Under the name of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which supposedly brought together different ethnic groups, the terrorist group seeks to legitimize its presence in the region by “fighting” against Daesh.
Although tensions were always high between the Arab population and the terrorist group, they reached a boiling point in July with the Deir el-Zour Military Council, which saw a tentative peace with the PKK/YPG fall apart. The fallout stemmed from the “arrest” of the council’s head Rashid Abu Khawla by the PKK/YPG after he was “invited” to Hassakeh by the terrorist group. The al-Baggara and Aqaidat tribes lead the opposition to the terrorist group.
Arab tribes are angry with the United States for protecting the PKK/YPG, which resorts to violent tactics against any opponent in the region and pursues a campaign of oppression against the local population not joining their ranks.
Sporadic clashes were reported in the northeast after a “curfew” was imposed by the PKK/YPG to prevent protests against the arrest of Abu Khawla. The violence has so far killed 54 people, including six children, according to a report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor. “Calm has been relatively restored, as the intensity of fighting has decreased due to the 48-hour curfew” that took effect on Saturday, the Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman said, adding that clashes were continuing “intermittently in three villages.”
On Friday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry expressed concern about the terrorist group’s attempts to subjugate local Arab tribes amid ongoing clashes in the rural areas of Syria’s eastern Deir al-Zour province. In a statement, the ministry said that the terrorist group’s recent move is a new manifestation of its attempts to dominate Syrians, violating their human rights.
“We hope that the true colors of the PKK, seeking to cover up its aims under the pretext of a fight against Daesh, will be seen by its supporters soon,” the ministry said, referring to Western powers, including the U.S.
Taking advantage of the power vacuum created by the Syrian civil war since 2011, YPG/PKK terrorists invaded several Syrian provinces, including Deir el-Zour, with the help of Washington. The terrorists forced many locals to migrate, bringing in their militants to change the regional demographic. However, local tribes have been fighting against the YPG/PKK’s oppressive policies, including arbitrary arrests and kidnappings. The YPG/PKK assassinated tribe leaders to yoke local groups. After increased tension, various tribes united against YPG/PKK terrorists, asking them to hand over oil revenues to locals, release arrested tribe members and permanently leave Deir el-Zour. While the U.S. was involved in the situation and tried to mediate between the two sides by defusing tension, the tribes rejected the call for a meeting, as they found out that the U.S. had no intention of asking the PKK/YPG to leave the province.
An estimated 3 million people live in areas controlled by the PKK/YPG in Syria. The terrorist group, which advocates for independent Kurdish entities, recruits members from the Syrian Kurdish population but has limited support among Syrian Kurds. Ethnic Arabs make up the majority of the population in areas controlled by the terrorists.
Although not as strong without U.S. support, the PKK/YPG managed to cultivate a “democratic” image in northeastern Syria by including local elements that appeared unaligned with the ideology of the terrorists. Though they aligned amid the ongoing civil war in the country, the Military Council has been a main rival of the PKK/YPG.
Several media reports have claimed that the United States (which angered its ally Türkiye with its constant support to the terrorist group) was considering a new alliance with the Military Council instead of the PKK/YPG.