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Al-Hasakah fighting belies deeper tensions

January 27, 2015 By Osama Abu Zeid and Brent Eng […]

27 January 2015

January 27, 2015

By Osama Abu Zeid and Brent Eng

AMMAN: The security situation in Al-Hasakah city remained stable on Tuesday, returning to its own version of normal after more than a week of gunfights over gas distribution marred the tacit alliance between the two parties in the jointly ruled provincial capital.

“The security situation is good and there are no safety issues disrupting life in Al-Hasakah at the moment,” Mohammed al-Hnede, an independent citizen journalist in Al-Hasakah, told Syria Direct on Tuesday.

Instead, attention in the city has turned to the Kurdish Popular Protection Units’ [YPG] victory over the Islamic State in the Kurdish town of Kobani on Monday.

The YPG is the principle Kurdish party governing in Al-Hasakah.

“There will be a celebration tonight rejoicing in the liberation of Kobani in the [city’s] main square, and there is an open invitation to attend, including for Arabs, Kurds and Christians,” said al-Hnede.

Hasakah356 Syrian regime officials distribute salaries in a Al-Hasakah post office on Monday. Photo courtesy of Mohammed al-Jnaidi.

The fighting in Al-Hasakah began nearly two weeks ago when the YPG began distributing gas, whose price has increased dramatically in the last year, to Kurdish civilians in neighborhoods ruled by Arab tribes loyal to the government.

In response, “the regime arrested gas distributors loyal to the [Kurds],” an activist in Al-Hasakah told the pro-opposition news agency Tahrir Souri, leading to an exchange of detentions between the regime and the Kurds. 

Eventually, the Arab tribes fired on YPG forces, prompting a series of attacks between regime forces and the YPG that reportedly killed dozens.

The fighting violated a tacit agreement between the regime and the YPG in the city, in effect since mid-2012, though local reports assert that the Syrian government had been trying to weaken relations between the local pro-regime National Defense Forces and the YPG.

The two sides formed an uneasy alliance to battle former-Free Syrian Army fighters in the holdout neighborhood of Ghweiran in Al-Hasakah city and Islamic State fighters in the province’s countryside as recently as last year. After weeks of fighting, the rebels in Ghweiran were subdued, and since then, the regime and the YPG have each ruled various districts of the provincial capital.

Both sides had imposed a curfew on the city during the fighting, declaring that civilians who left their houses were subject to arrest and immediate military enlistment.

“The process of releasing prisoners has already begun,” al-Hnede said over Facebook on Sunday, referring to the terms of a ceasefire agreed upon by the regime and YPG last Wednesday.

The agreement between the YPG and the regime began last Wednesday night on the conditions that the YPG release a [regime] security officer [who had been captured], withdraw from a regime checkpoint and stay in the Kurdish neighborhoods, Abu Salaam al-Khafji, a pro-regime media activist in Al-Hasakah, told Syria Direct.

“In exchange, the regime would release members of the YPG that they had captured.”

Kurds return home

Meanwhile, Kurdish families who fled fighting in the city began returning to their homes late last week after the announcement of the ceasefire, reported the Kurdish news agency Rudaw.

“Many of the Kurdish citizens left from Al-Hasakah city to Kurdish-controlled areas in the province,” Mustafa Karam, a member of the Kurdish YPG police in Al-Hasakah city, known as the Asayish, told Syria Direct.

“The reason for the failure of the [earlier] truces between our forces and the regime is because the regime continued to bomb Kurdish neighborhoods, especially the [Kurdish] al-Salihiya neighborhood, which was almost devoid of citizens,” Karam said.

The recent fighting complicates an already fluid political situation in Al-Hasakah province, where the YPG’s political wing, known as the PYD, has been governing the areas it controls for over a year.

Al-Hasakah province is home to a burgeoning Kurdish independence movement fostered by the PYD, which the regime politically opposes but has not directly confronted.  

The divided nature of the city’s governance was reflected last week when the two sides administered separate policies to ease a bread crisis that resulted from the violence.

The Kurdish Asayish distributed bread in Kurdish areas, much like they had done with gas prior to the fighting, a Kurdish media activist in Al-Hasakah who asked to remain anonymous told Syria Direct.

Al-Hasakah’s governor announced that the bakeries in the regime-controlled areas of the city were working at full capacity after having been supplied 150 tons of flour and baking materials in light of the security situation, said official state news SANA last week.

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