BEIRUT: A surge of clashes in Syria’s oil-producing northeast has killed dozens of rebels and Kurdish fighters in the past two days, activists said yesterday.
Syrian Kurdish militants, particularly the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), have repeatedly clashed with opposition fighters led by Al Qaeda-linked units in the region as government forces retreated over the past year.
The Kurdish PYD’s military wing blamed Al Qaeda-linked groups for the latest violence, saying fighters from the Nusra Front and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant attacked a string of Kurdish villages in Hasaka province.
Heavy artillery and tanks were used, it said.
Estimates of the numbers killed varied. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 35 rebels and 13 Kurdish fighters had died over the last two days.
Rebels accuse their Kurdish opponents of collaborating with President Bashar Al Assad’s forces to secure autonomy — although activists said disputes over resources and territory were a bigger factor in recent clashes.
Munzir Ehmed, a Kurdish activist in the city of Qamishli on the Turkish border, said the Islamists were attacking to try and take control of oilfields and a border crossing under Kurdish control.
“This is not a political issue. There are divisions even between these rebel units over oil,” he said, adding that seven Kurdish fighters and four fighters and a commander from Islamist brigades died in clashes near Qamishli.
Elsewhere, Syrian warplanes bombed one of the main hospitals serving rebel-held territory in the north of the country, according to activists and video footage.
Eleven civilians, including two doctors, were killed in the strike against the hospital on Wednesday in the town of Al Bab, 30km northeast of Aleppo city, the opposition Aleppo Media Centre said yesterday.
The government has not commented on the strike but state news agency SANA said the army had killed 14 “terrorists” — a term it uses for rebels — north of Al Bab in an operation on a militant convoy.
The death toll from an alleged massacre in an Alawite village in central Syria rose to 22, including women, children and elderly men, a rights monitoring group said yesterday.
The minority Alawite sect to which Assad and most of Syria’s elite belong is an offshoot of Shia Islam whose members have increasingly been targeted by radical fighters among the Sunni Muslim-dominated opposition in the revolt against Assad.
Fighters from the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front shot dead 16 Alawites and six Arab Bedouins on Tuesday after storming the village of Maksar Al Hesan, east of the city of Homs, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is opposed to Assad.
The British-based Observatory said the victims included seven women, three men over the age of 65, and four children under the age of 16, citing residents and medics.
Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Observatory, said the victims had been shot in their homes, and that they were not members of any pro-Assad militias.
Syrian state television reported that government forces had retaken the village on Wednesday, killing a number of rebels, who they said were mostly foreign fighters.
Israel’s military yesterday said three apparently stray mortar shells struck the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights yesterday, .
“They were apparently fired in error,” an army spokesman said, adding that they hit open ground and caused no injuries.
Israel did not immediately respond.