Syrians flee clashes between Kurdish, govt troops

Beirut —Scores of residents of the northeastern Syrian city of Hassakeh took advantage Friday of a lull in fighting between Kurdish forces and Syrian government troops to flee to safer areas nearby, after fighting intensified the previous day with government warplanes bombing Kurdish-controlled positions in the city for the first time, activists and others said.
Also Friday, the Russian military said two of its ships launched cruise missiles at militant targets in Syria from the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The development came after Russia this week began using Iranian territory to launch airstrikes in Syria, with Moscow’s bombers flying out of the Islamic Republic for three straight days to hit targets in the war-ravaged country.
The missiles add an extra dimension to the aerial campaign Russia has conducted since September in support of President Bashar Assad’s military.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said that the Serpukhov and the Zeleny Dol corvettes launched three long-range Kalibr cruise missiles on Friday at the al-Qaida-linked militant group of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front. The ministry said that the missiles destroyed a command facility and a militant camp near Daret Azzeh along with a mine-making facility and a weapons facility in the province of Aleppo.
Russian warships have in the past launched cruise missiles at targets in Syria from both the Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean, a show of the navy’s long-range precision strike capability. Cruise missiles launched from Russian navy ships in the Caspian in October and November struck targets in Syria while in December, a Russian submarine also launched cruise missiles at Syrian militants.
In Hassakeh, after dozens of townspeople fled, clashes broke out anew later on Friday, a Kurdish official said. An activist group said Syrian government warplanes launched more air raids on areas controlled by Kurdish fighters on Friday. Kurdish official did not immediately respond for questions about the air raids.
The fighting between the Kurdish troops and government forces could potentially open a new front in the Syrian civil war, now in its sixth year.
The area around Hassakeh had witnessed battles between the two sides in the past but this week’s violence has been among the worst since Kurdish fighters took control of wide, predominantly Kurdish areas in northern Syria in 2012.
The main Kurdish force in Syria known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, has been the main U.S.-backed force in Syria and the most effective force in fighting the Islamic State group.— AP

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