Clashes between Kurdish and Arab militias rage on in Syria despite US calls for calm

Fighting has been ongoing between the US allies in the east of the country since Wednesday

US -backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters stand guard at Al Naeem Square, in Raqqa, Syria, in 2022 (file photo). AP
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Fierce clashes between US-backed Syrian Kurdish militias and a local Arab militia continued on Friday, conflict monitors and Syrian state media reported, a day after the US called on both sides to stop fighting and focus on defeating ISIS.

At least 45 people have died in the violence, including five civilians and 17 members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish majority militia backed by an international coalition in the war against ISIS.

The conflict against the terrorist group, which largely ended in 2019, left the Kurdish fighters in de facto control of Arab majority areas, including Deir Ezzor and Raqqa, two of the first Syrian provinces to fall under ISIS control.

Tensions have been rising ever since, fuelled by the slow pace of reconstruction and a lingering ISIS insurgency.

Clashes continued in Deir Ezzor city on Friday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a conflict monitor, with the Deir Ezzor Military Council, a local Arab militia, apparently taking control of an SDF building on the edge of the city.

The SDF has apparently withdrawn from some villages near Deir Ezzor city, SOHR reported, although it is currently unclear whether this is to reduce tensions or because they have been pushed back. The Observatory said clashes had been ongoing “intermittently”.

Fighting also appeared to spread to the country’s north, with clashes reported in Manbij, near Aleppo, where local militia groups backed by Turkey fought with the SDF. Russian air strikes, apparently targeting the Arab militias, were also reported in Manbij, according to Mzahem Alsaloum, an analyst.

Recent fighting has also taken place near the Conoco gasfield, where a contingent of the approximately 900 US troops in Syria, who armed and trained the SDF, are based, and clashes have also been reported near Al Omar, an oilfield where US forces are also present.

The gasfield is named after the ConocoPhillips oil company, which operated in Syria before the war.

In a statement late on Thursday, the US urged a renewed focus on efforts to bring "peace and stability in north-east Syria, free from the threat of Daesh," a pejorative term for ISIS.

"We remain focused on working with the Syrian Democratic Forces to ensure the enduring defeat of Daesh, in support of regional security and stability. Distractions from this critical work create instability and increase the risk of a Daesh resurgence."

Updated: September 01, 2023, 4:24 PM