People who fled violence in Syria at a new refugee camp in Arbil, about 350km north of Baghdad. Thousands of Syrians have poured into the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, taking advantage of a new bridge along the largely closed border.
BEIRUT: Al Qaeda loyalists attacked a mainly Kurdish town in northeastern Syria, sparking fighting in which 18 people were killed, two of them ambulance crew, a watchdog said yesterday.
The assault on the strategic border town of Ras Al Ain, from which the jihadists were expelled by Kurdish militiamen in July, sparked an exodus of civilians into neighbouring Turkey, an activist said.
The attack on the town was part of a wider offensive by Al Qaeda against several Kurdish majority areas of northern and northeastern Syria that began on Friday and was continuing yesterday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Five Kurdish militiamen and 11 jihadists made up the rest of the dead, the watchdog said.
Havidar, a Syrian Kurdish activist who declined to give his surname, said civilians had fled “in waves into villages in Turkey.”
“Intermittent clashes are continuing to take place till now, in the Asfar Najjar area and the outskirts of Tal Halaf,” he said via the Internet.
Government troops pulled out of majority Kurdish areas of Syria last year, leaving Kurdish militiamen to fend for themselves.
Elsewhere in Syria, rebels attacked a pro-regime militia checkpoint in a majority Christian area of Homs province, killing six civilians and five militiamen, the Observatory said.
Most of those killed were Christians, activists and residents said. Some were from the National Defence Army, a militia which fights alongside President Bashar Al Assad’s soldiers, and others were civilians, they said.
“Terrorists today committed a massacre, killing 11 people ... in Homs countryside,” the state news agency SANA quoted an official as saying.
The Observatory said the rebel fighters had also sustained losses.
A resident who visited the site of the overnight attack said he saw the remains of a destroyed checkpoint and two civilian cars nearby, whose passengers may have been caught up by chance in the fighting.
He said the checkpoint had been used as an artillery base to bombard the rebel town of Hosn, about 2km away, which lies below the towering Crusader castle Crac des Chevaliers.
Many Christians fleeing the violence in Homs city over the past two years have settled in Christian villages around the area where yesterday’s attack took place.
Some have joined the pro-Assad forces, fearing for their future were the president to be toppled by rebel forces increasingly led by radical Islamist brigades, some with links to Al Qaeda.
Homs has seen some of Syria’s worst violence since the outbreak of the conflict in March 2011.
At least 182 people were killed across Syria on Friday, the Observatory said.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International said prominent Syrian artist Youssef Abdelke and another opponent of the Damascus regime had been “subjected to enforced disappearance.”
Abdelke and Adnan Al Dibs were arrested on July 18 in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tartus and have not been seen since.
Rights groups say the regime, which systematically practises torture, is holding tens of thousands of political prisoners.