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U.S. backed Kurds lift siege of Syrian army run enclaves in northeast

AMMAN (Reuters) - U.S. backed Kurdish-led forces and the Syrian army reached a deal on Tuesday to end a nearly three week long siege of neighborhoods under the control of the Syrian government in two-Kurdish controlled cities in northeast Syria, officials from both sides said.

Streets leading to the center of the city of Hasaka in a security zone under government control were reopened while barriers set up during the 20-day siege were being dismantled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a grouping of U.S.-backed militias which the Kurdish YPG dominates, state media said.

Trucks carrying goods, wheat and fuel were again being allowed into two neighbourhoods in the city of Qamishli that Kurdish-led forces had for days restricted goods entering it, according to a Syrian official and a resident.

“Steps have begun to lift the siege imposed by the militias ... and we hope this will continue in both cities,” Ghassan Khalil, the governor of Hasaka told Syrian state-news agency SANA.

Most of the neighbourhoods of the two biggest cities in northeastern Syria have been under SDF control since Syrian troops handed control to the Kurds in the early years of the ten-year conflict to fight mainly Sunni rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar al Assad.

With U.S. backing, the SDF have in recent years taken control over much of northeastern Syria where most of the country’s oil and wheat production lies after defeating Islamic State militants.

The deal struck with Russian mediation defuses weeks of mounting tensions with daily protests against the Kurdish-led administration and some deadly clashes blamed on SDF forces who opened fire on pro-Assad demonstrators, according to residents and Syrian officials and a SDF source.

The Kurdish-led administration has accused Damascus of inciting tribal chiefs in the predominately Arab dominated province of Hasaka to rebel against their rule.

The YPG and Syrian authorities have for years been tacit allies, with lucrative oil and commercial links between them.

The airport of Qamishli continues to be run by the Syrian government and salaries of employees are paid by the state.

Assad has however in recent months accused the YPG, which is affiliated to the PKK Kurdish rebel group in Turkey, of treachery and helping Washington lay its hands on the country’s oil and wheat production.

The YPG accuses Damascus of seeking to return back areas it controls to decades of repression which saw discrimination of the Kurdish minority under a one-party rule that espouses Arab nationalism.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by David Gregorio

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