Several people have been killed in rare clashes between Assyrian Christians and Kurds in Syria’s al-Hasakah province, Al Jazeera has learnt.
The province in the northeast of the country is divided and in parts controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Kurds and Assyrians.
Assyrian and Kurdish sources said there were casualties among fighters in the battle between the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Assyrians in the city of Qamishli on Tuesday.
“The city of Qamishli is controlled by Assyrians, but surrounded by Kurdish fighters. The Assyrians were trying to set up checkpoints and were fired at by the Kurds,” Afram Yakoub, the chairman of the Assyrian Federation of Sweden, which monitors news related to Assyrians across the region, told Al Jazeera.
He said at least one Assyrian and eight Kurdish fighters were killed.
Taj Kordsh, a Kurd from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), confirmed that the clashes broke out because of the checkpoints, but gave a different death toll.
“Two Assyrian fighters were killed in the clashes and five others were injured,” Kordsh said.
He added that a civilian had also been killed.
“Kurdish fighters say these checkpoints have bothered residents and must be removed,” he said.
The SDF was founded in Syria’s mainly Kurdish northeastern region in October 2015, and is made up of at least 15 armed factions – mostly fighters from the YPG and the Free Syrian Army.
This is the first time clashes between Assyrians and Kurds have taken place over the course of Syria’s nearly five years of civil war.
Tensions have increased in the area following three separate attacks on December 30 claimed by ISIL which left at least 18 people killed. The attacks targeted two restaurants owned by Christians.
Its forces include Christians, Arabs and about 500 foreign fighters, Kordsh said, adding that some groups in Aleppo and Idlib pledged allegiance to the SDF last month.
ISIL has targeted Syria’s Christians several times, and abducted a total of 215 civilians in February 2015. So far 88 have been released following negotiations and a deal.
The deal states the Christians cannot wear symbols of their religion, such as crosses, and must pay a tax.
During ISIL’s offensive to seize territory in Syria, thousands of people from different religious sects have been abducted or killed.