Kurds take over prison, capture 50 pro-Syrian govt fighters in Qamishli – reports

Fighters of the People's Protection Units (YPG) walk with their weapons in the city of Qamishli, Syria April 21, 2016 © Rodi Said
At least 50 pro-Syrian government fighters have been taken captive by Kurdish forces in the Syrian town of Qamishli in the mostly Kurdish-controlled Hasaka province after fierce fighting entered a second day, various media report.

Fighting between the two factions in the northeastern Syrian town sharply intensified on Thursday, after Kurdish police, known as Asayish, seized Allya prison where pro-government forces had been holed up.

Kurdish Firat news agency reports 67 soldiers surrendered, while AFP puts the figure at 50.

The soldiers from the Syrian army handed themselves over to the Kurds, who then surrounded the military intelligence headquarters and some other office buildings held by pro-government forces.

A video posted by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) on Facebook claims to show the badly damaged prison after the fighting.

Meanwhile, local news report that Syrian troops have been shelling the city with mortars.

Barzan Iso, a Kurdish director and writer in the area now, told RT that the shelling has mainly targeted the area around the Allya prison.

[Syrian Defense forces] started to shell the city with mortars today, reports from our journalists in different parts of the city [claim]. They [shelled the city] from the local airport controlled by the army. They targeted the prison quarter [and] local TV studios.

Iso also claims that least 10 civilians have died as a result of the shelling.

We’ve got information that at least 10 civilians have been killed by mortars and many more injured. We spoke with doctors from local hospitals – they also say many people were injured, but are unable to tell how many as shelling goes on.

Moreover, a Reuters source told the news agency that over 20 have died in Thursday’s violence.

More than 21 dead from regime forces [Syrian Army] of Qamishli as a result of clashes and regime attacks, with five Asayish fighters martyrs,” a Syrian Kurdish official wrote in a message to the news agency.

Syrian army officials could not be reached for comment, according to Reuters.

The fighting initially broke out on Wednesday morning after a dispute at a checkpoint controlled by the Asayish, according to AFP’s sources.

Two Kurdish policemen were later killed, a Kurdish YPG official told Reuters. Barzan Iso claims that Kurdish forces killed 18 Syrian army soldiers.

The Asayish is an internal security force set up by the autonomous Kurdish administration that manages large areas of northern Syria. In mid-March, the Kurdish parties and their allies announced the creation of a federal region comprising much of northern Syria. Representatives of the Kurdish, Arab, and Assyrian communities, as well as other ethnic groups, met in the town of Rmeilan for talks aimed at establishing the new zone. The participants of the meeting concluded that the region is to be “an integral part of Syria, and will develop its relations with neighboring countries on the principles of peace and brotherhood,” as “the Kurdish people have been rejected and silenced in the latest peace talks in Geneva” and so have had to resort to other measures in order to gain the ear of the global community.

Damascus and Ankara, however, have rejected the Kurdish initiative. The Syrian Foreign Ministry slammed the move, calling it illegal and “an attack on the territorial and national unity of Syria.”

Qamishli is located just 5 kilometers from the Turkish border. The self-proclaimed autonomous Kurdish administration resides there, and Kurdish groups control most of city. Yet pro-government forces still hold the airport, a number of government buildings, and the city headquarters of the ruling Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party.