At least 56 people have been killed in a week of fighting in northeast Syria between anti-government rebels and members of the long-oppressed Kurdish minority who have seized on the civil war to try to secure self-rule, activists said on Tuesday, January 22, according to Reuters.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collates reports on Syria's violence from local activists, said on Tuesday that the anti-Damascus rebels were using tanks and mortars on Tuesday against Kurdish forces.
With Arab rebels entangling government forces to the west and south, the Kurds, who make up around 10 percent of the population, have exploited the vacuum to set up the Kurdish schools and cultural centers long denied them under Baath party rule, as well as police and armed militias.
But they have remained at arm's length from the increasingly Islamist-dominated mostly Sunni Arab rebels, fearing that these would not honor the autonomy aspirations of a region that holds a significant part of Syria's estimated 2.5 billion barrels of crude oil reserves.
On Tuesday, fighters of the Kurdish People's Defence Units clashed with several rebel groups in the city of Ras al-Ain in Syria's northern Hasaka province, the Observatory said.
"The clashes erupted (last) Wednesday ... and (have) resulted in the deaths of at least 56 fighters," the group said.