BEIRUT – Syrian Kurdish gunmen on Saturday seized a major border crossing with Iraq from al-Qaida-linked groups following intense infighting between rebel groups that raised concerns of a spillover, activists and an Iraqi official said.
The latest violence coincided with a visit by the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Iran, a staunch ally of President Bashar Assad’s government, to press efforts for international peace talks aimed at ending the civil war, now in its third year.
The Kurdish militiamen captured the Yaaroubiyeh post in northeast Syria after three days of clashes with several jihadist groups there, including Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
An Iraqi intelligence official confirmed that Kurdish rebels now held the crossing point – one of two main crossings with Iraq – adding that Baghdad brought reinforcements to the area to prevent any spillover of violence.
Kurdish groups control a large swath of northern Syria, and they are suspicious of Islamic groups who have moved into predominantly Kurdish areas in the chaos of the civil war. Clashes between their fighters and jihadists in northern and northeastern areas of Syria have killed hundreds of people in the past months.
The border crossing point was under government control until March when hard-line rebels captured it. Syrian rebels, particularly the hard-line groups, are believed to draw support from insurgents in Iraq. Sunni Arabs dominate both the Syrian rebel movement and the Iraqi insurgency.
The Syrian conflict, which began as a largely peaceful uprising against Assad in March 2011, has triggered a humanitarian crisis on a massive scale, killing more than 100,000 people, driving nearly 7 million more from their homes and devastating the nation’s cities and towns.
The U.S., the United Nations and Russia are pushing for an international peace conference to be held in Geneva next month, bringing together the warring sides.