The economically vital Hasaka Province of Syria is seeing major clashes today, as the rebel-held town of Ras al-Ayn was the site of battles between the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish group with PKK ties.
Rebels have sought to expand their holdings in Hasaka, which is both lightly defended by the Syrian military and mostly cut off from supply lines. The province is a major oil producing region in Syria.
But that expansion is coming not so much at the expense of the Assad regime, whose control of the territory is tenuous to begin with. Rather they are moving against ethnic Kurdish towns in an area where Kurds have tried to stay out of the civil war and have expressed hope for their own secessionist ambitions.
The rebels have repeatedly run afoul of PKK fighters and their affiliates in recent weeks, with the FSA’s brand of Sunni Arab nationalism running afoul of the separatist group’s home to carve out an independent Kurdistan in the region. Only yesterday FSA officials were expressing hope that the Kurds would simply withdraw their forces and cede the towns to them, instead they may be bringing the Kurdish factions into the war against them.