The United States is looking into allegations that Kurdish YPG forces in Syria are taking advantage of the fight against Islamic State to drive Arab residents out of areas under their control.
U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters Friday, “We are aware of the reports and we are concerned by them and we are seeking more information about them.”
Hours after Rathke's statement, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Saturday said the YPG fighters, backed by rebels and coalition warplanes, advanced farther into the IS-bastion province of Raqa in northern Syria, in a bid to capture the key border town of Tal Abyad.
The observatory said Kurdish forces laid siege to the Islamic State-held town of Salouk, about 10 kilometers from Tal Abyad.
The fighting has forced thousands of residents of Tal Abyad to flee to Turkey. Hundreds of Syrian refugees gathered near the Turkish border Saturday in an attempt to escape the violence.
Thousands of people crossed from Syria into Turkey this week to flee fighting between Syrian Kurds and other opposition forces battling Islamic State in the northeastern corner of Syria.
Kurdish fighters recaptured the contested town of Kobani near Turkey early this year and have since been chipping away at IS control in other areas along the border.
The area is critical to the militant group because it adjoins territory under its control in Iraq. But Turkish officials accuse Kurdish fighters of using the battle to also expand their control over the region.
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A Turkish official said the majority of fleeing refugees appeared to be Syrian or Iraqi Arabs.
“A significant demographic change is taking place in the area. Arabs are being pushed away as Kurds flow in,” he said.
“We are trying to obtain more information about what is happening on the ground,” said Rathke. “And we have raised with the PYD [Democratic Union Party] our concerns about their human rights record, including intimidation of rival Kurdish political parties in the past. “
The PYD is the main political party in Syria and dominates its northeast. Its military wing, the YPG, is helping to push back Islamic State militants with the help of U.S. airstrikes.
“Our airstrikes have focused on the fight against ISIL and not to any other purpose,” the U.S. spokesman pointed out Friday during a briefing in Washington.