Kurdish fighters have driven jihadists from 19 towns and villages across northeastern Syria in recent days, a week after capturing a key Iraqi border crossing, a monitoring group said Monday.

The Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People (YPJ), the main Kurdish militia in Syria, has battled other rebel groups in a bid to carve out an autonomous region in the northeast, where the army is no longer deployed.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that relies on local activists and other sources, said that "since Saturday, a total of 19 localities have fallen into the hands of Kurdish fighters."

"The jihadists have been trying to regroup their fighters to reclaim lost ground," it said, referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Al-Nusra Front, hardline groups linked to Al-Qaeda.

The Kurdish and jihadist fighters have long been battling for control of the northeastern Hasake province bordering Turkey and Iraq, which is rich in petroleum and grain.

The latest clashes came a week after Kurdish fighters seized the Yaarubiyeh crossing on the Iraq border, which had been a key transit point for arms and jihadist fighters carrying out attacks in both countries.

The fighting between the Kurds and rebels ostensibly struggling to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has added another level of complexity to the civil war, which has claimed an estimated 120,000 lives since early 2011.

The uprising against Assad began in March 2011 as a series of peaceful protests inspired by the Arab Spring, but soon escalated into a full-blown war after his security forces launched a brutal crackdown.

 

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