Middle East

Kurd-jihadist firefights rage in Syria

Men pass by buildings destroyed by Syrian air force air strikes in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus January 17, 2013. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

DAMASCUS: Fierce clashes raged on Friday in the majority Kurdish northern Syrian city of Ras al-Ain on the Turkish border, a day after a sniper killed a French journalist in embattled Aleppo.

Despite the relentless bloodshed, protesters took to the streets of flashpoint areas in the strife-torn country, renewing their calls for the fall of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The fighting in Ras al-Ain comes six months after Assad's troops withdrew from majority Kurdish areas, and jihadists have since staged assaults on the strategic city, forcing most residents to flee.

Syria's Kurds are divided over the 22-month revolt against Assad -- some support his regime, others back the uprising and others are striving to stay neutral.

On Friday, fighters from radical groups Al-Nusra Front and Ghuraba al-Sham battled Kurdish militiamen a day after launching a new assault on the border town, residents and activists said.

On Thursday, "the fighting became more intense in the evening after Kurdish fighters received reinforcements to try to stop the fiercest rebel assault ever since insurgents first arrived in the city" in November, a resident identifying himself only as Mohammed told AFP.

Al-Nusra Front is listed by the United States as a "terrorist" organisation.

A Kurdish resident of Ras al-Ain, who said he opposed Assad's regime, said the jihadists crossed the Turkish border with three tanks into the city on Thursday.

On Friday, "the Kurdish fighters seized one of the tanks," the activist, who identified himself as Havidar, told AFP via the Internet.

While Turkey supports the revolt against Assad, it is also home to a sizeable Kurdish minority that has suffered much persecution and suppression.

Activists say they fear Turkey may be using jihadists in Syria to fight its own battle against the Kurds.

Westwards in Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed Yves Debay's death after Aleppo-based activists distributed photographs of the journalist's body and press card, and accused regime troops of killing him.

"He was killed on one of Aleppo's fronts" on Thursday, said the Aleppo Media Centre, adding he was "shot by a regime sniper".

At least 17 professional journalists, both foreign and Syrian, and 44 citizen journalists have died reporting on one of the deadliest wars for the media in recent years, according to figures from watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

Syria's spiralling conflict has killed more than 60,000 people in less than two years, says the United Nations. The Observatory has documented 48,000 dead, most of them civilians.

On Friday, protesters braved intense violence in flashpoints and took to the streets calling for the fall of Assad's regime, in demonstrations organised to honour at least 87 victims of a deadly bombing in Aleppo university on Tuesday.

In Kafr Nabel in northwestern Syria, whose residents' artwork has become iconic in the revolt, protesters held up a painting of the University of Aleppo coloured black and red, with corpses and books strewn on the


Later on Friday, regime forces shelled the town, killing at least one child, said the Observatory, which has said more than 3,500 children have died in Syria's conflict.

In Aleppo, angry protesters took to the streets of rebel-held districts.

"They chanted slogans honouring the victims of Aleppo university, and demanded the fall of Assad's regime," said the Observatory.

The university bombings, for which the rebels and the regime exchanged blame, were superceded with new explosions on Friday.

The Observatory said 12 civilians were killed, with Governor Mohammed Wahid Akkad saying they died when "terrorists fired a rocket at the residential Muhafaza area of the city".

But opposition activists blamed the military, alleging it was an air strike that caused the killings. The Observatory was unable to confirm the cause of the explosion.





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