Infighting among Turkey-backed militias kills 25 in northern Syria

Clashes on Sunday between Turkish-backed rebel factions vying for influence in the northern Syrian Kurdish town of Afrin left 25 fighters dead and dozens wounded, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported.

Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman said that the heavy clashes were unprecedented since the rebels seised Afrin. “The clashes provoked terror among civilians,” he said, adding that “Turkish tanks patrol in the streets of the town.”

The clashes pitched the pro-Ankara rebels of the Olive Branch groups against some 200 fighters from Shuhadaa Al-Sharqiya, a group in Jarabulus affiliated with the Free Syrian Army. In late October, Shuhadaa announced it was disbanding amid reports that Turkey had pressured the group to dissolve itself after defying instructions.

"Turkey’s efforts to integrate and control these allies have fallen short," the Washington-based think tank Carnegie Endowment reported earlier this month. "Those fragmented factions are still out of control, making them destabilizing factors in northern Syria."

The Syria-based pro-Kurdish ANHA news agency reported a 10-year-old boy was injured by shrapnel from a shell that struck Mahmudiya district of the town as a result of the clashes.

Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebel fighters, who are considered as mercenary fighters for Turkey, seised the northwest Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin from Kurdish forces in March after a two-month air and ground offensive.

Since Turkish troops and pro-Ankara rebels captured the town from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, the backbone of the U.S.-backed coalition in the battle against the Islamic State, the United Nations and Amnesty International, have documented widespread abuses.

Half of the enclave’s 320,000 residents, mostly Kurds, fled, according to a report by the UN Commission of Inquiry, and most are unable to return.