BEIRUT (Reuters) - Damascus has provided military support to Kurdish forces to help them battle Islamic State, Syrian media said, in a move that would mean President Bashar al-Assad and his Western enemies could be backing the same forces against Islamist militants.
The main Syrian Kurdish party, which has repeatedly denied that it has cooperated with the Damascus government, described the report as propaganda.
Assad has mostly left the Syrian Kurds to their own devices and ceded control of some Kurdish areas in Syria to Kurdish militants while focusing his firepower on insurgents fighting to unseat him.
Kurds in Syria complain of years of marginalisation under Assad but also fear Sunni Muslim militants.
A report on state news agency SANA on Sunday denied a claim which it said some Kurdish members of the Syrian government had made that Damascus was not helping Syrian Kurds besieged by Islamic State, the most powerful anti-Assad militant group.
“The support provided by the government to Syrian Kurds is known and documented and comprehensive, including military support,” SANA quoted the media source as saying.
It said that the aid included direct and indirect military support but did not say which groups were recipients or when Damascus last sent military aid to Kurds.
Saleh Moslem, co-chair of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) whose armed wing is leading the Kurdish fight against Islamic State in northern Syria, told Reuters on Monday that no support had arrived from Damascus.
“They are making such propaganda but it’s not true, completely wrong,” he said. “They have never done anything for Kobani,” he added, referring to the Syrian border town where Kurdish fighters are besieged by Islamic State forces.
In Iraq, Kurds are one of the main Western allies against Islamic State. A week ago, United States air-dropped arms to help the Kurds in Kobani.
But the West has so far kept Syria’s Kurds at arm’s length. NATO member Turkey has concerns over the PYD’s historic links to the separatist PKK that fought for Kurdish rights on the Turkish side of the border. And pro-Western Syrian opposition groups accused the PYD of having cooperated with Assad’s government to take control of territory in 2012, which the Kurds deny.
Despite U.S. reservations a U.S. State Department official held direct talks for the first time with the PYD earlier this month.
During the three-year war in Syria, Kurds have asserted control in parts of the northeast where their community predominates. Islamic State and other hardline groups consider Kurds heretics and have fought to take areas they control.
Reporting by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Dominic Evans