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Clashes turn tribal between Turkish-backed opposition factions

The Turkish-backed opposition factions are trying to portray their conflicts as tribal in a bid to absolve themselves of the violations committed in the area.
Syrian Kurdish and Arab families are pictured fleeing in the countryside of the town of Darbasiyah.

Armed clashes with heavy machine guns and RPGs erupted May 24 within the scope of renewed infighting between members of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA). The dispute is traced back to a tribal revenge case in the area that culminated into armed clashes expanding in most of the neighborhoods of Ras al-Ain in the Hasakah countryside. 

The armed confrontation went on until noon May 25. A man named Mohammed Al-Awad Al-Daar from the Al-Akidat tribe was killed. He was shot by Khaled Al-Abdullah, a member of the Al-Mawali tribe, under the umbrella of the SNA-affiliated Thairun Movement in Ras Al-Ain. Abdullah was reportedly avenging his brother, who was killed 10 days ago by a person affiliated with Al-Qaraab clan, a branch of the Al-Akidat tribe.

The clashes also led to the killing of two members of the Al-Mawali tribe and to mutual arrests between the two sides. Al-Akidat gunmen took control of the headquarters of the Al-Mawali tribe fighters in the city. More than nine gunmen from both sides were wounded, as were two civilians.

Tension between the two tribes expanded beyond the Ras al-Ain area to the countryside of Aleppo, where gunmen from the Al-Mawali tribe set up checkpoints on the Afrin-Jenderes road. They checked identity cards and arrested a number of people from Deir ez-Zor from the Al-Akidat tribe, documenting this in video footage.

In the context, a member of the Youth Union of Hasakah spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. He said, “SNA groups were formed on a regional and tribal basis. Each tribe was grouped into one faction that held its name. This has great repercussions on the area and the tribe itself, and it is one of the most important reasons that lead to ongoing armed clashes flaring up between the factions, such as the recent confrontation in Ras al-Ain. The recent disputes between the factions turned into tribal disputes, with the faction harnessing all of their weaponry to ensure victory for their tribe.”

He attributed the reason for the recurrence of these incidents to the settlement of disputes through reconciliation between tribal dignitaries without addressing the core of the problem and holding the perpetrator accountable. “Weapons are proliferating in the area, which makes it easier for any verbal altercations to turn into armed clashes,” he argued.

He continued, “When tribal elders agree to end a dispute, this does not necessarily mean removing tension between tribe members. This triggers a new escalation and deaths between the two sides. The disputes are unfolding amid an inability by the judiciary and official institutions, marred by corruption and nepotism, to control security. An offender would be released without being tried through the mediation of a tribal leader or dignitary.”

Following the incident, the leadership of the Harakat Thairun in the area of Operation Peace Spring issued a decision signed by Maj. Mohammed Noura, removing Khaled Al-Abdullah from the movement’s payroll for not complying with the decisions of the National Conciliation Committee. The decision ordered he be handed over to the military police in Ras al-Ain.

Meanwhile, the media office of Ras al-Ain and its countryside revealed that a symposium was held to discuss the internal situation in the presence of the head of the local council in the city, the police chief, a number of leaders of the Harakat Thairun, tribal sheikhs and media figures.

Turkish forces also intervened to resolve the conflict between armed men from the tribes, during which heavy machine guns were used in a recurring event that reflects the military authorities’ recklessness and endangerment of the lives of civilians.

A member of the Leadership Council of the Harakt Thairun, Mustafa Sejari, explained to Al-Monitor, “The tribal components are very influential in the area, but our objective is to empower official institutions and resort to them and not circumvent them. We have now been able to overcome the current dispute after the intervention of a number of influential figures in the area. We are expecting the report of the delegation that headed to Ras al-Ain, after which we will issue a number of decisions and take concrete steps to prevent the recurrence of such incidents that undermine the security and stability of the area.”

Mudar Hammad al-Assaad, spokesman for the Council of Syrian Tribes and Clans, told Al-Monitor, “SNA factions are exploiting the differences between their members to turn them into tribal disputes that completely plunge the area into chaos and bloodshed. The factions resort to this tactic to absolve themselves of disputes and absolve their members of committing violations by dressing up these disputes as tribal disputes.” 

He added, “Due to the absence of the judiciary and the military police's inability to resolve the disputes between the factions who maneuvered to marginalize the role of the military police and the courts in order to remain the supreme authority in the area, tribal elders are constantly filling the ensuing void and resolving these disputes. They were able during the past period to spare the area a large number of disputes that would have resulted in hundreds of victims.”

Of note, the renewed clashes angered activists and prominent figures of the Harakat Thairun. They took to social media to demand a halt to the behaviors that have been provoking recurring armed clashes between the SNA components.

The areas controlled by the Turkish-backed opposition factions are marred by chaos amid continued violations by some armed groups affiliated with these factions such as killings, theft, kidnappings, corruption and almost ongoing armed confrontations.

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