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New Syrian alliance groups U.S.-backed Kurds, Arabs

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Kurdish militia that has been fighting Islamic State in Syria with help from U.S.-led air strikes has joined forces with a number of Arab groups in a new military alliance announced on Monday.

The alliance calling itself the Democratic Forces of Syria includes the Kurdish YPG militia and Syrian Arab groups, some of which fought alongside it in a campaign that drove Islamic State from wide areas of northern Syria this year.

A Kurdish official said he hoped the alliance would garner more support from the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State.

It comes soon after the United States announced a shake-up of its support to Syrian rebels fighting IS, effectively ending its program to train fighters outside Syria and focusing instead on providing weapons to groups whose commanders have been U.S.-vetted.

The YPG has to date proved the most effective partner on the ground for U.S.-led air strikes against Islamic State, taking large amounts of territory from the jihadists in northeast Syria this year.

But the YPG’s advances have alarmed Turkey, which fears growing Kurdish influence in northern Syria could fuel separatism among its own Kurdish minority. Establishing it as part of a wider movement that also includes groups from Syria’s Arab majority would help counter arguments that its aims are limited to protecting the Kurds.

“The sensitive stage our country Syria is going through and rapid developments on the military and political front ... require that there be a united national military force for all Syrians, joining Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs and other groups,” said the statement, which was sent to Reuters by a YPG spokesman.

The new alliance includes the YPG, various Arab groups including Jaysh al-Thuwwar (Army of Rebels), and an Assyrian Christian group.

“Given that these forces in general are democratic and secular forces that believe to a great degree in diversity, we hope that they will receive support” from the U.S.-led coalition, said Nasir Haj Mansour, an official in the defense ministry of the Kurdish administration in YPG-held territory.

“The current goal in practical terms is to confront Daesh, given that it is the first enemy, but the goal is also to build a democratic Syria in the future,” he said by telephone, using an acronym for Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

The YPG seized a number of important towns from Islamic State earlier this year in an advance into its stronghold of Raqqa province. However the Kurds decided against advancing into Islamic State’s de facto capital Raqqa city itself, saying they wanted Syrian Arab rebels to lead such an assault.

Reporting by Tom Perry and John Davison; Editing by Paul Tait and Peter Graff