Twenty-five people, mostly from tribal communities, were killed during clashes between Arab tribal fighters and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the town of Dhiban in Deir al-Zor province. This new escalation confirms that American interventions have failed to contain the crisis and warns of an expansion of clashes in northeastern Syria.
After the clashes that erupted on Monday, the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab factions supported by the United States, bolstered their presence in the region.
They announced on Tuesday morning the expulsion of regime gunmen from the town of Dhiban hours after they infiltrated from their areas of control.
“In contrast, the leader of the Al Uqaydat tribe, Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Hafel, issued a voice message declaring the start of the tribes’ attack on the SDF forces. He called on tribal fighters to mobilize and receive support from the sons of the Euphrates to fight against ‘SDF, Qandil, and their stooges,’ emphasizing that this fight is ‘a sacred and obligatory struggle.’
These clashes come about three weeks after several days of fighting in the same region between the SDF and fighters from Arab tribes, resulting in ninety deaths.
Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory, stated on Tuesday that ‘armed men loyal to the Syrian regime crossed the Euphrates on Monday towards areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces and clashed with them.’
According to Abdel Rahman, the groups that crossed the Euphrates included local Arab fighters who had been involved in the previous clashes weeks ago and later withdrew to areas under the regime’s control.
The clashes, which continued until early Tuesday, resulted in the deaths of 21 militants, three members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, and a woman. Additionally, 42 others were injured.
The Syrian Democratic Forces accused regime-affiliated gunmen of infiltrating ‘under the cover of indiscriminate artillery shelling from the city of Mayadin’ into the town of Dhiban.
The Euphrates River marks the border of Deir al-Zor province with Iraq, which is predominantly Arab and home to dozens of Arab tribes. Control over the region is divided between the Syrian Democratic Forces on the eastern bank of the Euphrates and regime forces supported by pro-Iranian factions on the western bank.”
Observers suggest that the renewed battles that began in Dhiban could expand to encompass all of Deir al-Zor and extend to the neighboring provinces of Raqqa and Hasakah. This is because the Arab component in all the regions east of the Euphrates suffers from marginalization, exclusion, and being denied a role in governing the areas and benefiting from their resources, except for participation in the rule of villages and towns for the benefit of the SDF, the decisive factor in determining the present and future of the regions.
In late August, clashes erupted following the Syrian Democratic Forces’ removal of the military council leader of Deir al-Zor, which angered local Arab fighters from tribes in the region.
The Syrian Democratic Forces emphasized at the time that there was no dispute with the Arab tribes. They accused regime forces of supporting local fighters and sending reinforcements to them, prompting the United States to intervene and hold a meeting with both sides to persuade them to cease fire.
After about a week of clashes, the Syrian Democratic Forces, which had been fighting alongside Arab fighters against the Islamic State for years, announced the end of military operations after gaining control of Dhiban, the last town where the fighters led by one of the tribal sheikhs were stationed.
Following the conclusion of the clashes, Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces, tasked tribal leaders with communicating with the sheikh supporting the militants and confirmed that his forces would ‘announce amnesty for the detainees.’ He urged ‘the region’s residents to exercise caution and avoid being drawn into strife.’
The government-affiliated newspaper Al-Watan reported that the claims by the leaders of the SDF, led by Mazloum Abdi, that ‘the tribal tension has ended’ were pure fabrication. The aim was to ‘reassure’ Americans that the region is under control and that the main driver of the uprising by its sons is external agendas, not SDF encroachments on their rights and control of their region, where the Arab component constitutes the majority of the population.
The report added that the movement of Arab tribes is ongoing, as evidenced by the ongoing clashes with ‘SDF‘ militants from time to time, and the continued arrests targeting anyone who participated in the movement, even on social media platforms. This has raised the level of frustration among the tribes’ members and pushed them to prepare for a new uprising, more powerful than the first, as its signs have emerged on the horizon and in the minds of all the region’s residents.