BEIRUT: Kurdish fighters expelled jihadists from the Syrian flashpoint frontier town of Ras al-Ain and the nearby border crossing with Turkey, activists said Wednesday, in escalating fighting that could signal another front in Syria’s fractious civil war.Kurdish fighters took total control of Ras al-Ain “after 24 hours of fighting.
The [jihadist] groups were expelled from the whole of Ras al-Ain, including the border post” with Turkey, said director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel-Rahman.
Earlier, the Britain-based opposition group had reported clashes between Kurds, Nusra Front, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and other groups.
Ras al-Ain has a majority Kurdish population and is of strategic importance because of its location close to Turkey.
Kurdish fighters are trying to ensure that neither the regime of President Bashar Assad nor the opposition takes control of the area.
The clashes between Kurdish fighters and jihadists erupted after Nusra Front attacked a convoy of Kurdish women fighters, Abdel-Rahman said.
Nine jihadists and two Kurdish fighters have been killed since the fighting broke out, the Observatory said.
Activists in Ras al-Ain said members of the jihadist groups had taken advantage of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began last week, to try to impose their extreme version of Islam.
In the early days of the Syria conflict, when opponents of Assad’s regime were desperate for help from any quarter, jihadist fighters were welcomed but a spate of abuses has fueled a major backlash.
Charles Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, pointed out that tensions between Kurdish fighters and Islamist rebels go back months, and have persisted despite a series of cease-fires.
Other fighters perceive the Kurds as “interested only with Kurdish interests, rather than those of Syria or of Islam,” he said.
Additionally, “the predominance of more liberal values – in terms of lifestyle, appearance, and culture – make Kurds a typical target of Islamist derision.”
He said the Ras al-Ain clashes “emphasize the potential for damaging distractions to emerge for Syria’s anti-government opposition.”
A reporter at the scene told The Daily Star the Kurdish fighters with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian affiliate of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) were trying to extend control of the area and fighting was expected to spread to the Iraqi border.
“Nusra need oil,” he said, “they cannot leave the oil near the Iraqi border.”
The reporter, who asked to remain anonymous, said he expected heavy fighting to break out in Tal Abyad, east of Ras al-Ain, next.
The fighting also risked raising tensions with Turkey, after fighting spilled over the border, killing a Turkish teenager and wounding two others.
That prompted a response from Turkey’s military, which said it fired into Syria in retaliation for bullets that struck Turkish territory.
In another border spillover of Syria’s civil war Wednesday, gunmen from Syria infiltrated a disused army outpost in the Israeli-occupied area of the Golan Heights just beyond the cease-fire line, a military spokeswoman said. The incident, which occurred overnight, saw an unspecified number of Syrian gunmen entering the position and firing toward an Israeli army patrol, which returned fire.
“Yesterday evening, suspicious movement was spotted in an unmanned … [Israeli army] position east of the fence in the southern Golan Heights,” the army spokeswoman said, indicating the post was in Israeli territory.
“Then shots were fired at the patrol in the area and they returned fire at the source,” she said, adding that there were no injuries or damage on the Israeli side.
It was not immediately clear whether any of the Syrian gunmen had been hurt in the exchange.
The incident came a day after several mortar rounds hit the Israeli side of the Golan, causing several fires to break out along the cease-fire line as Syrian rebels battled regime forces near the Qunaitra crossing.
Elsewhere in Syria, a child and six men were killed when a car bomb attack hit Kanaker in Damascus province, the Observatory said.
In the north of the capital, troops renewed their shelling campaign of rebel areas in Barzeh, while clashes also raged in the neighborhood, the group added.
And in the central city of Homs, an army onslaught aimed at taking back rebel districts was in its 18th day, activists said.
Troops began a new attempt to break into the rebel area of Bab Houd, which like other districts of Homs has been under tight army siege for more than a year, Homs-based activist Yazan told AFP via the Internet.