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Kurds, Syrian Forces Continue Clashes in Flashpoint City


A Kurdish fighter from the People's Protection Units (YPG) carries his weapon as he walks at the faculty of economics where a defaced picture of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is seen in the background, in the Ghwairan neighborhood of Hasaka, Syria, Aug. 22, 2016.

A Kurdish fighter from the People's Protection Units (YPG) carries his weapon as he walks at the faculty of economics where a defaced picture of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is seen in the background, in the Ghwairan neighborhood of Hasaka, Syria, Aug. 22, 2016.

Clashes continued Monday between Syrian government forces and Kurdish fighters in the northeastern city of Hasaka amid reports of an ongoing effort by Russia to reach a cease-fire agreement, activists and residents said.

Kurdish forces, known as the People's Protection Units (YPG), have made new advances against forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad's regime, reports said.

"The YPG is now in control of much of the city," Evan Hassib, who reports on the events in Hasaka, told VOA.

Empty shells line the ground as a Kurdish fighter from the People's Protection Units (YPG) walks toward al-Furat university in the Ghwairan neighborhood of Hasaka, Syria, Aug. 22, 2016.

Empty shells line the ground as a Kurdish fighter from the People's Protection Units (YPG) walks toward al-Furat university in the Ghwairan neighborhood of Hasaka, Syria, Aug. 22, 2016.

Kurdish fighters' gains were noticeable after government warplanes ceased bombing Kurdish positions in the city on Friday. The Syrian air assaults stopped after U.S. military planes were sent to the region to protect Kurdish forces.

Despite Kurdish advances, many Kurdish residents are unable to leave their homes due to the ongoing government artillery bombing from the ground.

"Many people are still stranded there," Hasaka resident Hasan Mislit told VOA. "They can't get out." Mislit has taken refuge in the nearby town of Amude.

The Pentagon confirmed that Syrian warplanes conducted strikes against "ground forces in the vicinity of Hasaka" last week. The strikes did not threaten coalition forces that are operating there.

"We made it clear that coalition aircraft would defend its troops on the ground if threatened," U.S. Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway said last week.

Hassib said that he could hear U.S. aircraft as fighting between government troops and Kurdish fighters continued on the ground.

Russia mediation

In the meantime, Russia is reportedly mediating between the two sides to reach a truce and come up with a plan to run the city.

A meeting took place Monday between Kurds and government representatives inside Hmeimim, Russia's airbase in the Syrian city of Latakia, a journalist close to the Syrian government told VOA. He requested to remain anonymous.

The YPG has denied participation in any meetings with Syrian officials, saying they would continue fighting until the last government-held areas of the city had been controlled.

Mohammed Za'al Ali, the governor of Hasaka, said that Kurdish fighters intend to push out government forces from strategic points of the Kurdish-majority city.

FILE - Smoke rises from the northeastern city of Hasaka, Syria, Aug. 21, 2016.

FILE - Smoke rises from the northeastern city of Hasaka, Syria, Aug. 21, 2016.

"The Kurds want us to relinquish power over the city, but that's not going to happen because we represent the state here," he said in an interview with a Kurdish news channel.

The Syrian official said that instead of making such demands, Kurdish forces should cooperate with Syrian government troops to fight Islamic State militants in the country.

The two sides have occasionally worked together to fight IS in parts of northeastern Syria.

The YPG is a key element of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that has the backing of the U.S. in the fight against IS militants in Syria.

Since 2012, the Kurdish region has been run by local Kurdish forces after government troops largely withdrew to focus on fighting rebels in other parts of the country.

In major cities like Hasaka and nearby Qamishli, however, government and Kurdish groups have been working loosely to oversee the area.

Hasaka Residents Flee to Neighboring Syrian Cities as Clashes Intensify:

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