Two Car Bombs Kill at Least 12 in Syria’s Northern Aleppo

At least 12 people have been killed and 29 wounded in two car bomb blasts in northwestern Syria, according to rescue workers and media reporters, Haaretz writes.

The successive explosions on Sunday took place in the town of Azaz and another village some 50km away, both areas held by Syrian rebel fighters allied with Turkey. Azaz is situated in Syria’s northwestern province of Aleppo, which is currently controlled by the militants of Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army opposition group.

Turkish-backed militants seized the town as a result of Ankara’s Operation Euphrates Shield launched in 2016. Northern Syria is regularly rocked by bomb blasts, blamed by Ankara on the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey regards as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Turkey and the allied Syrian fighters control large parts of northern Syria, and are at odds with government troops and Kurdish-led forces, who are considered “terrorists” by Ankara. The rebel-controlled areas are scene of recurrent attacks that are rarely claimed by any one side.

The Syrian Civil Defence, a volunteer rescue group operating in rebel-held parts of Syria, said it has responded to 11 explosions in the country’s northwest since the start of January, before Sunday, where at least 11 people were killed.

Separately, Syria’s state news agency SANA said one Syrian was killed on Sunday and four were wounded in the northeastern city of Hassakeh, Deir Az Zor province, after the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) opened fire at pro-government demonstrators protesting against a siege on their neighbourhood. The area is known as the security square and is controlled by government forces.

A video of the rally in Hassakeh showed dozens of men gathering in a street on a rainy day as fire rang out over their heads. The men began chanting, “With our souls, our blood we sacrifice for you Bashar,” in reference to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

A Kurdish-run news agency, Hawar, said security forces at a checkpoint in the city had come under fire, prompting its members to respond to the source of attack. The clashes led to the death of a government security member, the agency said. The differing accounts could not be immediately reconciled or independently verified in the city where both security forces have a presence.

The Kurds, Syria’s largest ethnic minority, have carved out a semi-autonomous enclave in Syria’s northeast following the start of the war in 2011. In the area, they run their own affairs and control most of the country’s oil resources.

In both Hassakeh and Qamishli cities, they share control with government forces – which have a presence in security zones, near the airport and in some neighbourhoods. Both cities have a sizeable Kurdish population.

There was no immediate comment from the Kurdish forces. But Kurdish officials have previously said they were reacting to government troops which have imposed a siege and are harassing Kurdish-dominated neighbourhoods in the northwestern Aleppo province where the government is in control.

Russia, which conducts patrols in northeastern Syria and is a main backer of the Syrian government, has offered to mediate between the Kurdish forces and the government.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces have besieged Kurdish areas in northwestern Aleppo for months, preventing foods and medical supplies from entering. The Kurdish forces responded by imposing a siege on government-controlled areas in Hassakeh and to a lesser degree in Qamishli for the last 21 days.

The Observatory said it is not clear if the person killed in Hassakeh was a civilian or member of the government forces.