Syrian President Bashar al-Assad .jpg
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Kurdish forces in north-eastern Syria called on fighters loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to lay down their arms and surrender, amid an advance in al-Hassakeh city.

The city has seen heavy clashes over the last week as well as unprecedented airstrikes by al-Assad's forces, who previously enjoyed a tense co-existence with the Kurdish movement that dominates the north-east of the country.

"To all the regime militiamen who are surrounded in the city: You are now in the targets of our forces, snipers and weapons," the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia announced by loudspeakers in the city.

Most of al-Hassakeh is dominated by the YPG, but al-Assad's forces and loyalist militias have retained control of the city centre and some mainly Arab areas.

A similar situation prevails in the other main north-eastern city, Qamishli, fuelling charges by the opposition and rebel forces that the YPG is an ally of al-Assad.

Idriss Nassan, a senior Kurdish official, said the YPG had taken control of most of the city's Ghweiran neighbourhood, one of the largest Arab-populated districts and the main government stronghold outside the city centre.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said that the Kurds also gained control of al-Hassakeh's central prison in the evening, and now held 90 per cent of the city.

Kurdish and government officials both confirmed that Russian officers were holding talks between the two sides aimed at resolving the conflict.

Russia is a key ally of al-Assad but is also on good terms with the dominant Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). The YPG, widely seen as the PYD's military wing, is also the key US ally on the ground in Syria against the Islamic State extremist group.

A top PYD leader meanwhile drew a link between the clashes in al-Hassakeh and reports of a rapprochement between al-Assad's government and Turkey, a prominent backer of the Syrian opposition and vehement opponent of the Syrian Kurdish forces.

"This is the first time since the liberation of the Kurdish areas ... that the regime air force carries out direct strikes on our positions ... This is related, as I have said, to the rapprochement between the Syrian regime and the Iranian and Turkish regimes," PYD joint president Salih Muslim said.

"Turkey's interest and objective is that the Kurds don't get any democratic rights, whether in ... Rojava [Syrian Kurdistan] or in Turkey," Muslim said in a telephone interview with dpa.

The airstrikes on Kurdish positions in al-Hassakeh were a "kind of positive response" by al-Assad to "courtship" from Ankara, Muslim argued.

There has been speculation that Turkey will shift its policy on Syria after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently mended fences with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Ankara distrusts the PYD and YPG due to their close links with Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) guerrillas operating on its own territory.

Clashes intensified throughout last week between al-Assad loyalists and the Kurdish forces. The US warned the Syrian government not to threaten its allies with warplanes.

The Kurds, who make up about 10 per cent of Syria's pre-war population of 22.4 million, long suffered discrimination under the rule of al-Assad's Baath Party, an Arab nationalist organization.

Since 2012, the PYD has succeeded in gaining control over most Kurdish-populated areas in the north-east and near Aleppo, establishing what it describes as a democratic autonomous administration which it promotes as a model for the rest of the war-torn country.

Latest news

Trump administration reverses transgender bathroom protections

The Trump administration on Wednesday withdrew Obama-era guidance about the use of school and university bathrooms by transgender students, local media reported.

Several Dakota Access Pipeline protesters arrested as deadline passes

Several people at a camp protesting against a controversial oil pipeline in the US state of North Dakota were arrested Wednesday after a deadline to vacate the land passed, local media reported.

Germany deports 18 rejected asylum seekers to Afghanistan

A Kabul-bound plane with 18 Afghan migrants on board took off from Munich Airport late Wednesday, its passengers becoming the third group of rejected asylum seekers to be deported by German authorities back to Afghanistan.

New Romanian justice minister named after anti-corruption protests

Romanian Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu has named a former judge to be the country's next justice minister, after the previous office holder resigned under pressure from mass anti-corruption protests.

Le Pen's chief of staff indicted in European Parliament jobs probe

The chief of staff of Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate for president in upcoming French elections, was indicted Wednesday over allegations of irregular reimbursements from the European Parliament, a judicial source told dpa.

Montenegrin police extradites Miodrag Jovic to Croatia

Montenegrin police reported on Wednesday that they extradited to Croatia Miodrag Jovic (48) from Glina, after whom Interpol Zagreb issued an arrest warrant.

Croatian minister attends CoMoCoSEE conference in Albania

Culture Minister Nina Obuljen Korzinek participated in a third conference of the Council of Ministers of Culture of South-Eastern Europe (CoMoCoSEE) that took place in Tirana on February 21-22.

New Somali president asks al-Shabaab to surrender to 'help' country

Somalia's newly elected President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo asked Islamist terrorist group al-Shabaab to surrender in order "to help rebuild" the conflict-ridden East African nation.

Serbia's EU negotiator says minority rights neglected

The head of the Serbia's European Union accession negotiation team, Tanja Miscevic, said in Novi Sad on Wednesday that minority rights had been neglected for many years and added that positive results in that regard cannot be achieved over night, the Beta news agency has reported. 

Scientists: Nearby star's 7 rocky planets are "best bet" for life

New analysis of telescope data shows a dwarf star just 40 light years from Earth has at least seven apparently rocky planets with potential to harbour water, an international team of scientists announced Wednesday.

Croatian PM receives EIB Vice-President

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic met on Wednesday with European Investment Bank (EIB) Vice-President Dario Scannapieco for talks on the bank's contribution to a new investment cycle in Croatia and its support to the Croatian government to implement key projects, a press release from the government's office said.

Bomb explodes outside police officer's home in Northern Ireland

A bomb exploded outside a police officer's home in Northern Ireland on Wednesday but there were no immediate reports of casualties.