Rebels and Kurds agree a deal to avoid the risk of new conflict

Syrian rebels and a Kurdish militia who have fought each other for months in a town near the Turkish border have signed a ceasefire, averting the prospect of an Arab-Kurd conflict.

Syria’s Kurds have exploited the civil war between forces loyal to president Assad and rebels fighting to remove him by asserting control in parts of the north-east, which have been spared the worst of the violence.

But the relative calm was shattered in November when mainly Sunni Muslim Arab rebels overran the ethnically mixed Syrian town of Ras al-Ain and Assad’s air force bombed it in the days that followed.

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Until a deal was struck earlier this week, Kurdish fighters known as Popular Protection Units (YPG) had been battling to drive out insurgents from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), opening another front in Syria’s near-two-year civil war.

“They were forced to sign an agreement to withdraw from the town,” YPG spokesman Khabat Ibrahim, who was present at the ceasefire signing ceremony, said yesterday. “If the FSA respects us, we can join with them to liberate towns still under Assad’s control”.

Kurds in Syria see the war as an opportunity to win rights long-denied them by Assad and his father before him, but are wary of the Arab-dominated opposition, which they see as inherently hostile to their interests.

Those suspicions are fuelled by Turkish support for the rebels. Turkey has a fraught relationship with its own Kurdish population and has fought for years against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

Isabel Coles