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June 3, 2015

Kurds deny ethnically cleansing Arabs

The Syrian National Coalition accused Kurdish forces of committing "terrorist acts."

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YPG fighters. (AFP/Uygar Onder Simsek)

BEIRUT – The Kurdish People’s Protection Units militia (YPG) fighting ISIS in northern Syria has flatly denied mounting accusations it has been ethnically cleansing Arabs.

 

A YPG spokesperson said Tuesday that the “rumors” of human rights abuses have come at a time when the Kurdish militia is “cleansing the area of those criminal gangs,” in reference to ISIS.

 

Redur Khalil, in his interview with the pro-opposition Syrian Solution outlet, lambasted last week’s report in The Times, which alleged Syrian Kurds were conducting “what appears to be a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Sunni Arabs.”

 

The YPG official invited journalists to visit YPG-controlled areas in northern Syria and follow up on the report carried by the British daily.

 

The Times cited a source in an unnamed Syria-based humanitarian organization as saying that YPG fighters had been burning Arab villages.

 

It also claimed that over 10,000 civilians had fled northern Syrian in the past six months, but did not concretely specify if the exodus was due to the alleged YPG campaign.

 

The Times also quoted a local civilian in the Hasakeh province as saying that the YPG told him: “We will shoot at your children, and you will die if you stay here.”

 

The YPG spokesperson claimed that the Syrian Network for Human Rights had acted as the source for the Times’ report, adding that the activist group was trying to “discredit” the Kurdish fighting force.

 

Days after The Times article, the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) issued a warning to the Kurds “not to continue with its violations against civilians in the Hasakeh province.”

 

“[The YPG’s] terrorist acts correspond precisely with the plans of the Assad regime which seeks to foment chaos in the liberated areas.”

 

The YPG fired back at the SNC statement, with its spokesperson saying the umbrella opposition body “sympathizes with ISIS in its statements.”

 

Accusations and denials

 

The ethnic-cleansing accusations come as the YPG, backed by heavy coalition airstrikes, has rolled back ISIS in the ethnically-mixed Hasakeh province of northeastern Syria as well as Kobane north of Raqqa.

 

The Kurdish force has conducted its campaign in Hasakeh alongside the local Al-Sanadid Army, an Arab tribal formation, as well as Assyrian militias, while in Kobane it has fought in Arab-populated areas alongside Free Syrian Army-affiliated brigades.

 

Amid the lightning YPG advances in past months, reports have emerged of Kurds conducting retributions in Arab-populated areas they have captured from ISIS.

 

In early March, pictures circulated on social media networks purporting to show Kurdish fighters in front of burnt out houses in the Hasakeh village of Tel Hamis after they captured the Arab-populated ISIS stronghold.

 

The YPG denied carrying out any violations in Tel Hamis, with a source telling Al-Akhbar on March 3 that “military operations were carried out with participation from tribespeople in the area and Al-Sanadid Army members.”

 

“ISIS booby-traps civilian houses before it withdraws, which sometimes forces us to blow them up.”

 

The paper also cited the YPG source as saying that mistakes happen in war “and we will work to hold wrongdoers to account.”

 

Another alleged Kurdish violation surfaced last week in Abo Shakhat outside Ras al-Ayn following the YPG takeover of the Hasakeh village.

 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on May 30 reported that locals had accused the YPG of “executing” residents.

 

The YPG, in turn, said that “ISIS terrorists positioned in Abo Shakhat village were using local civilians as human shield during clashes taking place there.”

 

“When our forces tried to rescue the civilians from the terrorists’ hold – the terrorist elements proceeded to detonate a car-bomb among the people who were seeking safety with our forces,” it claimed.

 

“As a result of the explosion many civilians were killed as well as two of our combatant comrades; yet our troops managed to rescue more than 30 civilian inhabitants from terrorist threats and provide them with security in safe hands.”

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