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Tensions Remain After Kurdish, Government Forces Clash in Syria's Qamishli

FILE - Members of Kurdish security forces known as Asayish stand guard in the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli, Jan. 20, 2021.

Tensions remain high after violent clashes broke out between local Kurdish security forces and Syrian government troops in a strategic city in northeastern Syria.

Fighting between the two sides erupted Saturday after a government-backed militia group opened fire on a post controlled by Kurdish forces in the city of Qamishli, local news media reported.

Kurdish security forces, known as Asayish, responded to the attack and deployed additional reinforcements to the area, a local source told VOA.

“Those who started the Saturday clashes were members of the National Defense Forces who control pockets in the southern part of Qamishli,” the source said.

The NDF is a paramilitary force that has been instrumental in the Syrian conflict. Several of its commanders have been sanctioned by the United States for their role in persecuting civilians in the war-ravaged country.

A pro-government news site and other local sources said that two members of the NDF were wounded during the weekend clashes.

While the fighting has stopped, the situation on the ground remains tense, local news reports said.

Qamishli is mostly under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a military alliance that has been a major U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State terror group.

Syrian government forces and its allied militias, however, have a significant military presence on the southern outskirts of the city and control its international airport.

Qamishli, a Kurdish-majority city, has seen occasional skirmishes between the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces and Syrian government troops since the beginning of the country’s civil war in 2011.

But tensions in recent weeks reportedly were triggered by the arrests of high-profile officials made on both sides.

“A few weeks ago, the Asayish arrested a major Syrian government intelligence official and his son while they were coming to Qamishli from the city of Hasaka,” said Ivan Hasib, a reporter based in Qamishli.

“Government troops at the time responded by arresting several Kurdish security officers,” he told VOA, adding that, “the Russians swiftly mediated between the two sides and for a while an informal truce was largely holding.”

The Saturday violence, however, seems to be an extension of those tensions, Hasib said.

Russia, a major backer of the Syrian government, also has a significant military presence in northeast Syria, which increased after the partial U.S. troops withdrawal from the region in October 2019.