Al-Qaeda linked Islamists have kidnapped at least 120 Kurdish civilians from a village in Aleppo province near the border with Turkey, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, citing its sources.
The fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an insurgent group active in Iraq and Syria, entered the village of Ihras, 20 kilometers south of the border town of Azaz, taking the civilians hostage and transporting them to an unknown location, said the British-based Observatory.
The watchdog added that among the captives were six women.
The incident is the latest in the armed conflict between Syrian Kurds and Islamic factions. The Observatory reported that 51 Kurdish civilians from the towns of Manbij and Jarablus, northeast of Aleppo, have been kidnapped by Islamist fighters since the beginning of December.
The ISIL fighters evicted 15 Kurdish families from their houses in Tal Abyad city in Idlib province at the beginning of December, activists told the observatory. They claimed that the families were accused of supporting the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).
“This looks like the ISIL, which is an Al-Qaeda linked group in the north of Syria, is getting stronger and stronger at the moment,” Paul Lashmar, an investigative journalist at Brunel University, told RT. “It seems that it has developed into a multi-sided battle. It’s not just the rebels and the Syrian government any longer. We are getting more and more evidence that jihadist elements are getting stronger and picking fights around them.”
The escalating tensions between Islamist anti-government rebels and the Kurdish militia in the northern regions of Syria - including Efrin, Aleppo, Hassake, and Qamishly - have forced thousands, including a large number of Kurds, to escape the region.
Al-Qaeda-linked rebels often attack the Syrian Kurdish territory, located along the Turkey-Iraq border, seeking to take control over the area and create an Islamic emirate.
The Syrian Kurds number over two million and are the largest ethnic majority in the country. Many are seeking political autonomy - similar to Iraqi Kurdistan in Iraq - or outright independence as part of Kurdistan.
“They have tried to take advantage of the situation to create a separatist state, which covers several borders including parts of Turkey, so they are not popular with the Turks either. They are quite a well armed military, so it will be interesting to see how the Kurds react to this,” said Lashmar.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stated that kidnappings have been on the rise in Syria, with both the rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad involved in the crimes.
"In just the past few months, we have seen a significant and deeply alarming rise in abductions of human rights defenders, activists, journalists, religious figures and others by armed opposition groups, as well as the continuing arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances of individuals by government forces," Pillay said on Friday.
Alan Semo from the Kurdish Democratic Union party told RT that the aim of Al-Qaeda-linked rebels is to drive out the Kurdish people from that area.
“Terror groups related to Al-Qaeda are trying to destabilize the Kurdish area and force out the Kurdish people from the mixed area...and to replace the population with their own people,” Semo said.
According to him, the Kurds are not planning to retaliate, but will continue to defend themselves. “The Kurdish forces will not attack any areas, but we are going to defend together to protect from the jihadist group,” he said. "We [the Kurds] don’t want to attack other people or force them to move out.”
The international community has so far not paid much attention to the situation in the area, though the Kurds have tried to persuade it to listen. “We are trying to persuade the human rights organization that they have a duty to protect the civilians there,” Semo added. “We are calling on the international community to investigate and condemn these massacres and ethnic cleansing happening in that area."