BEIRUT — Nearly a week of fighting between Kurds and Arab rebels in northern Syria risks opening a new front in the already bloody battle for control of the country, underscoring the complexity of a conflict that threatens to ignite sectarian and ethnic tensions across the region.
Efforts were underway Wednesday between the leadership of the rebel Free Syrian Army and Kurdish representatives in Turkey to negotiate an end to the clashes, in which scores of hostages have been seized and more than 40 fighters on both sides killed.
But the eruption of violence exposed little-noticed frictions that have been building between the mostly Arab Syrian opposition forces seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad and Syrian Kurds, who increasingly see the revolt as an opportunity to extend their long-standing aspirations for the autonomy — and perhaps independence — of Kurdish areas across the region.
“This is setting the stage for a conflict that is going to come,” said Joost Hiltermann, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the International Crisis Group. And unless Syria’s already divided opposition takes steps to address Kurdish aspirations in a meaningful way, chances are high that a wider Arab-Kurdish war could follow any regime change in Damascus, he said.