Syrian rebel attack on mixed city points to end of peace pact

BEIRUT Fri Apr 12, 2013 7:49pm IST

Related Topics

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Rebels battled Syrian troops in the eastern border city of Qamishli on Friday, a monitoring group opposed to President Bashar al-Assad said, ending a de facto truce in the mainly Christian and Kurdish area.

Qamishli, on the border with Turkey and close to Iraq, has remained peaceful during a two-year uprising against Assad because local Kurds agreed with mostly Arab rebels to avoid clashes within city limits, said the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Videos posted on the Internet on Friday showed pickup trucks and dozens of rebels preparing an attack on Qamishli's domestic airport and smoke rising from the airport grounds.

The city of around 200,000 is also home to thousands of Syrians who have fled other parts of the country, the Observatory said. Inhabitants must now wait and see whether Assad retaliates for rebel attacks by using war planes, as he has done in other major cities.

The Observatory said the advance includes rebels of the Free Syrian Army and the hard-line Islamist Nusra Front, who have clashed in the past with Christians and Kurds the opposition has tried to persuade to abandon Assad.

"We are not sure why they are attacking today," said Observatory head Rami Abdelrahman. "Maybe the agreement broke down," he said, adding that the government and Kurdish militia control different areas of Qamishli.

In January, Kurdish militants and rebels fought battles with each other for weeks after Assad's forces retreated from Ras al-Ain, a northern border post with Turkey, embarrassing an opposition movement that said it speaks for all Syrians.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria's war, according to the United Nations. March was the conflict's bloodiest month yet, with more than 6,000 people killed, a third of them civilians, according to the Observatory.

Protests against the Assad family's four-decade rule broke out in Qamishli in April 2011, Kurdish activists said at the time. Kurds, around 10 percent of Syria's population, faced discrimination and harassment under Assad and his father, Hafez.

But after a crackdown by Assad's forces on peaceful demonstrations and the subsequent arming of the opposition, many of Syria's Kurds distrust the rebels and there have been sectarian clashes over the past few months across the country.

The Syrian government has given Kurdish militia autonomy over some areas on the condition rebels are kept out.

Western and Middle Eastern nations trying to help the opposition will meet in Turkey on April 20.

(Reporting by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Jason Webb)

FILED UNDER:

Reuters Showcase

Reuters Poll

Reuters Poll

Oil price will average less in 2015 than during financial crisis - Reuters Poll.  Full Article 

Stake Sale

Stake Sale

Strong demand for Coal India boosts privatisation drive.  Full Article 

New Italy President

New Italy President

Italy elects senior judge Sergio Mattarella as president.  Full Article 

Pharma Deal

Pharma Deal

Sun Pharmaceutical wins U.S. approval to buy Ranbaxy  Full Article 

SpiceJet Bailout

SpiceJet Bailout

SpiceJet board approves up to $243 mln share sale plan  Full Article 

AirAsia Jet Crash

AirAsia Jet Crash

AirAsia captain left seat before jet lost control - sources  Full Article 

India Art Fair

India Art Fair

Art fair turns India's capital into art hub.  Full Article 

Movie Review

Movie Review

"Rahasya" is an ode to Agatha Christie.  Full Article 

Review: Hawaizaada

Review: Hawaizaada

Movie Review: Hawaizaada  Full Article | Related Story 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device  Full Coverage