Arab inhabitants of Syria‘s Deir Az Zor have begun the third week of protests against Kurdish rule, according to residents and tribal figures.
The protests, which started in several towns and villages from Busayrah to Shuhail, on Wednesday spread to the east of the Euphrates River where most of the oilfields are located.
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The protesters have been complaining of lack of basic services and discrimination against them in local administrations run by Kurdish officials.
The forcible conscription of youths into the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the fate of thousands imprisoned in their jails have been major bones of contention, according to residents and tribal figures.
“Their repressive rule has turned many against them,” said Abdul Latif al-Okaidat, a tribal leader.
“No to the theft of our oil,” chanted demonstrators in the town of Greinej, part of the Arab-Sunni tribal heartland seized more than a year ago by the United States-backed SDF and spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG armed group.
The YPG has long sold crude oil to the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, with whom it maintains close economic ties and exports wheat and other commodities through several crossings between their territory.
The stepping up of oil sales to alleviate a fuel crunch facing Damascus has infuriated the local Arab protesters, with many placards saying they were being “robbed” of their wealth.
“We are deprived of everything while the Kurds are selling our oil to help the regime and enriching themselves,” said Abdullah Issa, a protester from al Tayaneh town.
The protests took a violent turn when angry mobs took to the streets and disrupted the routes of convoys of trucks loaded with oil from nearby fields that cross into government-held areas.
In some villages, SDF fired at angry protesters.
Mazloum Kobani, the SDF commander-in-chief, said in remarks that seem to refer to the unrest that his group was the only “institution that had steered away from any form of racism”.
The protests persisted after YPG commanders failed to make significant concessions to tribal figures who gathered at their invitation last Friday in the city of Ain Issa, two attendees said.
Syria’s most productive fields are now in Kurdish hands since the YPG extended control over large swaths of northeastern Syria after capturing the city of Raqqa from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in late 2017.
The Syrian government controls areas west of the Euphrates River that are less endowed with oil resources.
Diplomats say Washington has in recent weeks tightened efforts to clamp down on small shipments of oil by smuggler networks that are exported across the Euphrates to traders working on behalf of the Syrian government.
The SDF has not publicly commented on the most serious challenge so far to its rule over tens of thousands of Arabs.
The YPG has sought to redress decades of repression against minority Kurds under Syria’s Arab Ba’ath Party.