07/22/2013, 00.00
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New clashes between Kurds and Islamists in Syria, a 'war within a war'

The Kurdish minority does not want jihadist fighters on its territory, accusing them of 'ethnic hatred'. Hostilities continue between the two groups continue along the Turkish border as the regime gains strength. The position of the Committee for the Protection of Kurdish people weakens anti-Assad forces.

Aleppo (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Clashes between Kurdish rebels and Islamist militants along the Turkish border, where the jihadist presence hinders the minority's political interests, constitute a conflict within a conflict. "We think that the crisis in Syria will not end anytime soon, so we need to create democratic self-rule in western Kurdistan," said Salih Muslim, head of Syria's Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).

The forces of the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, both affiliated to al-Qaeda and involved in the fight against Assad, are a growing concern for Syria's Kurdish minority (about 15 per cent of the population).

In the last week, clashes between the two factions along the Turkish border have already left 50 people dead and are likely to weaken the rebel groups fighting a revitalised regime.

"The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) released 300 Kurds who had been taken prisoner overnight and this morning, in exchange for captured (jihadist) commander Abu Musab," local sources were quoted as saying on Sunday.

Nevertheless, tensions in Tal Abyad remain palpable even after the prisoners' release, because, according to Nasser al-Hajj Mansour, a Kurdish official, the Kurds were imprisoned "on the basis of ethnicity".

"We've lived through a small civil war over the past few hours," said an anonymous activist. "Many families fled the violence. Tal Abyad is a ghost city. There is now an ethnic-based hatred against the Kurds, though the truth is Kurds and Arabs, Christians and Muslims have always lived here together," he added.

In a region that is crucial for foreign insurgents entering the country, hostilities between Kurds and Islamists represent a critical variable for the conflict's outcome.

Since the beginning of the civil war in 2011, a Committee for the Protection of Kurdish people (YPG) has always operated on its own, defending its interests and those of its people.

In the past two years, the YPG stayed clear of both rebels and regime, taking a neutral or a hostile position vis-à-vis the other sides depending on local circumstances.

However, according to many analysts, although the Kurds have always kept a neutral position in the Syrian conflict, their traditional opposition to Turkey has brought them closer to the Assad regime.

The Kurdish minority in Syria is represented by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is affiliated with Turkey's Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

In Turkey, the PKK is regarded as a terrorist organisation, accused of trying to create an independent state on the border with Iraq.

Hence, the hostility expressed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan towards Assad might prevent Kurdish militias from undermining the regime.

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