Fresh clashes in al-Qamishli: Who is to benefit, and how will they affect the region’s future?   

A fighter from the Kurdish Internal Security Forces (ISF) or “Asayesh” on alert while civilians are fleeing their neighborhoods in al-Qamishli city following clashes with the pro-government National Defense Forces (NDF) - Asayesh

A fighter from the Kurdish Internal Security Forces (ISF) or “Asayesh” on alert while civilians are fleeing their neighborhoods in al-Qamishli city following clashes with the pro-government National Defense Forces (NDF) - Asayesh

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Enab Baladi – Nour al-Din Ramadan

For over a year, the city of al-Qamishli in al-Hasakah province in northeast Syria has been witnessing security tensions between the Kurdish-led Internal Security Forces (ISF), also known as Asayesh, and the Syrian regime-affiliated National Defense Forces (NDF) militia. The most recent clashes between the two sides broke out after exchanging hostilities, firing, and arrests which later evolved into sporadic skirmishes.

Early this year, clashes between the two sides resulted in Asayesh besieging the regime’s security square in al-Hasakah province, and the regime’s blockading of Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) held areas in Aleppo city for a month, before Russian forces intervened to end the dispute.

On 20 April, clashes erupted again between Asayesh and the NDF, the most vicious since the beginning of tensions between the two sides. The fighting led to several casualties on both sides and deaths among civilians, including one of the dignitaries of the Bani Sabaa clan. Once again, Moscow, which has been working on strengthening its position in Eastern Euphrates for a year now, tried to intervene to defuse the escalating tension but failed to do so, leaving the city of al-Qamishli in a semi-volcanic situation that might erupt at any time.

The clashes running sporadically between Asayesh and the NDF in al-Qamishli call for a quick summary of the city’s control map, which goes as follows:

– Most of the al-Qamishli neighborhoods are under SDF control except the city center area, which includes the security square of regime forces and pro-government NDF militia.

– The Syrian regime controls a military zone (security square) in al-Hasakah and the Kawkab military base, while the SDF controls the rest of the province.

– The Tayy neighborhood is situated to the south of al-Qamishli. It contains a military post for the NDF and the military Tayy Regiment in the southern outskirts of the neighborhood.

– The regime holds power over part of the Halko neighborhood and the security square at the al-Sabe’ Bahrat roundabout and al-Qamishli airport, while the SDF controls the rest of the city.

Clashes reaching beyond al-Qamishli

The clashes initiated in al-Qamishli spilled over to al-Raqqa governorate, where the regime shares SDF forces control under Russian auspices. Activists reported deaths and injuries among the Syrian regime forces on 22 April in clashing with SDF fighters in the al-Khalidiya village near Ain Issa town in northern al-Raqqa.

On 23 April, State Security branch elements were deployed in Aleppo city following the recent Asayesh-NDF clashes in al-Qamishli. Meanwhile, elements of the Counter-Terrorism forces and State Security branch spread in the vicinity of Bustan al-Basha neighborhood, al-Ashrafiya, and al-Midan neighborhood, the Castillo Road, and near the al-Jandoul roundabout. The elements have stopped civilians’ vehicles, inspected them, and arrested their passengers, Enab Baladi’s correspondent reported from Aleppo.   

Civilians were arrested after exiting areas held by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) in Aleppo city. Civilians from the neighborhoods of al-Haidariya, al-Hullak, and al-Sheikh Khader of Kurdish population majority were also arrested, Enab Baladi’s correspondent reported.  

What future awaits the region within the ongoing clashes?

Despite individual clashes on several and separate occasions between Asayesh and NDF elements, the two sides coexisted in al-Qamishli for a couple of years. Still, the expansion of the clashes’ range, the advancement of Asayesh into new areas of control at the expense of the NDF, and the support provided to the conflicting parties _the US backs the SDF and its security forces the Asayesh, while Russia and Iran support the Syrian regime and its affiliated NDF militia_ raise questions about the outcomes of these clashes.

Russia’s increased infiltration in the AANES areas in the last year and their establishment of a military base in al-Qamishli and other bases in Eastern Euphrates has also complicated the scene of conflict in this region. 

An element of Asayesh stationed in the Tayy neighborhood where the NDF advanced told Enab Baladi that Asayesh wants to evict the NDF completely from the Tayy neighborhood. He added that Asayesh might escalate tensions in other neighborhoods such as al-Arbawiyah, where there is a detachment for the regime’s military security or attack the NDF headquarters at the old National Hospital on al-Quwatli Street. 

The source confirmed the Kurdish Anti Terror Forces (HAT) intervention to support Asayesh in the Tayy neighborhood, constituting 90 percent of the forces that entered the area.

Member of the Kurdish National Council (KNC) Abdullah Kadu told Enab Baladi that the clashes in al-Hasakah and al-Qamishli between Asayesh and the NDF would probably continue for they are influenced by multiple powers’ different interests in the region.

Kadu ruled out major changes in the control map of the two parties. He noted the possibility of removing certain roadblocks from their old locations or replacing some officials with others in the Tayy neighborhood in al-Qamishli.

Kadu highlighted an uneasy relationship based on Kurdish nationalism and Arab tribal pride between the two sides of the fighting expressed through various media outlets and social media. Meanwhile, the region’s population suffers from drought, unemployment, high living costs, and the repercussions of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

According to Kadu, the clashes will only serve the regime that has been working on widening the gap between various groups of Syrian society to appear as a sole protector and savior. The regime alienated itself from the current fighting to focus on more important issues, such as the presidential elections. 

The solution to the current fighting between Asayesh and the NDF is in the hands of the US and the Russians, the supporters of these two sides, Kadu added. 

On the ground, locals fear the development of clashes into an irreversible phase that might lead to their displacement. A resident of the al-Wista neighborhood in al-Qamishli that is close to the ongoing hostilities told Enab Baladi that his house is one street away from the clashes’ hotspot. Missiles are being fired by the NDF towards the neighborhood, threatening civilians’ houses, but there is no desire or intention on the part of residents to flee the area.  

The Co-chair of the AANES Executive Council, Berivan Khaled, said that the NDF mercenaries must be stopped and “prevented from threatening the region’s security and stability or inciting ethnic discord between Kurds and Arabs.” 

Khaled attributed the purpose behind the NDF hostilities to creating division and tension between the region’s population, particularly between Kurds and Arabs.

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