A Syrian opposition group at home has warned of a Kurdish-Arab civil war due to the raging battles between Syrian Kurds and armed rebels in northern Syria, at a time when the Human Rights Watch blamed the rebels of infringing upon minorities’ properties.
The National Coordination Committees, the main opposition group inside Syria, said in a statement Wednesday that the northeastern region of Syria has been witnessing “painful incidents” and “dire consequences” that could eventually lead to a Kurdish-Arab civil war due to the ongoing fights to control posts and areas in that slice of Syria.
The statement came against the backdrop of the simmering violence that has engulfed the border town of Ras al-Ein in Syria’ s northeastern province of Hasaka. The rebels, streaming from neighboring Turkey, have been pushing to control that strategic Kurdish-dominated town, but fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have so far kept them from storming the town.
Scores of people have been killed due to the fights there, amid reports that the rebels are using great firepower in the area in order to push in.
Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Syria, making up around 15 percent of the country’s 23-million population. Most of them are Sunni Muslims and live in a geocultural region in northeastern Syria. They have been complaining about discrimination and harassment by the Syrian government.
In its statement Wednesday, the National Coordination Committees stressed that “there are local and foreign parties that are pushing toward this collision (between the Kurds and Arabs) to achieve the goals, ambitions and agendas that do not serve the national interest of Syria.”
The National Coordination Committees called on “all forces and local parties as well as the clans to unify efforts in order to establish the democratic change that could bring about an immediate halt of violence and preserve the national unity.”
What is going on in the northeastern region can not be isolated from the prevailing atmospheres of the no-solution, it said, assigning the blame on the “ruling regime that insists on espousing its military solution.”
Meanwhile, local media said hundreds of rebels were killed Wednesday after battles in the surroundings of the central prison of the northwestern Idlib province. The pro-government Sham FM said as many as 400 rebels were killed in the fights Wednesday.
Pro-opposition groups reported clashes and government troops’ shelling on several areas nationwide, placing the death toll of Wednesday’s violence at more than 60 people, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Watch said rebel groups in Syria appeared to have deliberately destroyed or allowed the looting of minority religious sites in northern Syria in November and December 2012, warning that “Syria will lose its rich culture and religious diversity if the armed groups don’t respect places of worship.”
“The destruction of religious sites is furthering sectarian fears and compounding the tragedies of the country, with tens of thousands killed,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at the New York-based group.
“Leaders on both sides should send a message that those who attack these sites will be held accountable,” she said.
“The opposition in Syria should back up its claims that it will uphold minority rights by protecting places of worship, and more generally ensuring that gunmen acting in its name respect civilians and civilian properties,” Whitson said.
The fear for Syria’s minorities has been growing, as the rebels have been joined by radical jihadist groups affiliated with al- Qaida. The main group “Nusra Front”, which is believed to be the striking force in the fight against the Syrian government after it claimed responsibility of most of the deadly attacks nationwide, has declared that it is fighting for neither democracy nor freedom, but only to establish an Islamic state on the wreckage of the current administration.
Such declaration has sparked fears of the minorities in Syria and pushed the United States to brand the group as “terrorists”.
In Moscow, meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held the Syrian opposition accountable for the no-solution status quo, saying in an annual conference that the opposition’s insistence on ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was thwarting efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the country’s 22-month-old brutal conflict that has killed more than 60,000 people according to a recent UN data.
“As long as this irreconcilable position remains in place, nothing good can happen. Armed actions will continue and people will die,” Lavrov said during the routine start-of-year news conference.
He said the situation in Syria does not require emergency actions from Russia in term of staging massive evacuation to hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens, mostly women living in Syria.
Earlier Wednesday, two Russian planes landed in Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, carrying a total of 77 Russian nationals, mostly women and children who had fled Syria by land, from the Lebanese capital of Beirut, the country’s emergency situations ministry said.
The operation was arranged under the request by Russian citizens who wished to leave Syria, the ministry said, stressing that it was not an evacuation.
Russians and Syrians have been allied by history and related by more than 50 years of intermarriages. The Russian administration has shielded Syria from two UN resolutions that could have paved the way for direct military intervention in Syria.
Such a supportive stance has bred resentment among Syrian anti- government activists and armed rebels alike, who have been threatening to target Russian nationals and diplomats due to their government’s political position.