Syrian Kurdish Forces Surround Border Crossing

As clashes continue between Kurdish groups affiliated with the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Jabhat al-Nusra, the former are advancing toward the Arabiyya border crossing, a vital link between Syria and Iraq.

al-monitor A Syrian opposition flag flutters as vehicles wait at Syria's Tel Abyad crossing at the Turkish border, April 23, 2013.  Photo by REUTERS/Hamid Khatib.

Topics covered

ypg, tel abyad, syrian, pyd

Jul 24, 2013

The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) are now advancing toward the Arabiyya border crossing that leads to Mosul in northern Iraq. The YPG, which is the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), has clashed recently with the radical Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra at the Ceylanpinar and Akcakale border regions.

Preparations are underway for a large-scale operation to capture the area from Jabhat al-Nusra-related religious groups, which are now controlling it.

The Arabiyya crossing is in a strategically important area that controls the main trade route between Iraq and Syria. Most of the economic activity between the two countries is conducted there. Both sides of the border are populated mostly by Turkmen.

Other crossings closed

After the PYD took control of border areas, the border crossings at Nusaybin, Ceylanpinar and Akcakale — which link Syria's Kurdish region to Turkey — were closed. The closure caused shortages of food and other essential items, forcing the Syrian Kurds to meet their needs through the Arabiyya crossing, which opens to the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. But this crossing was off limits to Syrian Kurds because of the problems between the PYD and Syrian Kurdish groups loyal to Massoud Barzani, the Kurdistan Regional Government president. The crossing was being occasionally opened for essential supplies. The PYD has now decided to expand its operations to the north, to capture the Arabiyya crossing that leads to Mosul.

Mosul border also active

Clashes are already taking place between the YPG and Nusra-afilliated groups in areas close to the crossing. The PYD’s capture of the Arabiyya crossing will also mean control of the trade route to Iraq. Between Arabiyya and Mosul there are Arab and Turkmen populated settlements. The Turkmen town of Tal Afar is located between Arabiyya and Mosul. It is not yet known how the Arab tribes will react should the PYD take control of the Arabiyya crossing.

Clashes continue

In the meantime, clashes between the Kurdish Jabhat al-Akrad and Jabhat al-Nusra groups at Tel Abyad are spreading to wider areas. Jabhat al-Akrad claims it destroyed one tank belonging to al-Qaeda groups and heavily damaged another. It also claims to have captured four anti-aircraft guns, one mortar and three rockets. 

Clashes are concentrated in civilian-populated locations of Yabse, Til Xidir, Sikeriye and Xirbesan, all in the Tel Abyad area. Jabhat al-Akrad said 34 al-Qaeda members were killed and 20 were wounded in the clashes. It also said that although they released al-Qaeda senior leader Abu Musab, al-Qaeda was still holding dozens of civilians. Jabhat al-Akrad, which has become prominent in the Tel Abyad clashes, comprises Kurds and Arabs who defected from the Syrian army. Earlier it was a part of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), but when al-Qaeda-affiliated groups started pressuring it to join Jabhat al-Nusra, clashes ensued.

The US is very concerned

Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for the US State Department, said the following about the developments in northern Syria: "We are very concerned by press reports indicating that the [PYD] might declare an independent Kurdish region in Syria … Such a declaration is highly provocative, as it will certainly exasperate tensions between Arabs and Kurds and give excuse for extremists to exploit the situation." 

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