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Escalating Clashes in Syria's Deir ez-Zor as Kurdish-Led SDF Attempts to Retake Last Town from Arab Fighters

Gulan Media September 5, 2023 News
Escalating Clashes in Syria's Deir ez-Zor as Kurdish-Led SDF Attempts to Retake Last Town from Arab Fighters

Deadly clashes have engulfed Syria's eastern Deir ez-Zor province for several days, pitting the Kurdish-led, US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) against local Arab fighters. A war monitor reported on Monday that these clashes are escalating, potentially leading to a significant battle as the SDF strives to retake the last town held by Arab tribesmen.

Tensions have been on the rise in the Arab-majority Deir ez-Zor province for over a week. The conflict was sparked when the SDF arrested Ahmed Khbeil, also known as Abu Khawla, the commander of the SDF-linked Deir ez-Zor Military Council, and four of his colleagues. The SDF accused him of collaborating with the Syrian government, involvement in drug trafficking, and failing to curb the resurgence of Islamic State (ISIS) activities in the region.

In response to Khbeil's arrest, Arab fighters loyal to him launched attacks on SDF-held territories within Deir ez-Zor. This province is divided by the Euphrates River, with Iran-backed Syrian government forces controlling the west and Kurdish-led, US-backed forces holding the east.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based war monitor, reported on Monday that SDF fighters have initiated an offensive and started shelling the town of Dhiban. This town is considered the last stronghold of local Arab fighters after negotiations for their surrender failed. The SDF has called on civilians to evacuate as the fighting intensifies.

The violence that has gripped Kurdish-controlled Deir ez-Zor since August 27 has resulted in the deaths of at least 71 people, including 39 local fighters, 23 SDF members, and nine civilians. Additionally, nearly one hundred individuals have been injured, according to SOHR.

The SDF alleges that the clashes intensified when pro-government forces from the western side of the Euphrates River entered SDF-held territories to participate in the fighting, further exacerbating the unrest in the area. The SDF has vehemently denied any disputes with Arab tribes and instead insists that the clashes are aimed at collaborators of the Syrian government and those who benefited from Khbeil's alleged involvement in drug trafficking and mismanagement.

Security in Kurdish-controlled areas in northern and northeastern Syria is managed through military councils led by locals, a strategy aimed at maintaining the region's delicate balance and preventing Arab discontent.

On Friday, the SDF imposed a 48-hour curfew to allow the force to secure the area and restore stability. On Sunday, US and Coalition officials convened with the SDF and Arab tribal leaders in Deir ez-Zor province, urging a swift de-escalation, as stated by the US Embassy in Syria.

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