Damascus accuses Kurd-led alliance of 'treason'
The Kurds and their Arab allies control a vast swathe of the north and northeast that makes up around a third of Syrian territory, much of which they captured in the long and costly campaign against the Islamic State group.
Buoyed by its recapture of most of the rest of Syria, Damascus is now demanding that alliance-held areas too return to central government control.
Weakened by the decision of its main ally Washington to withdraw most of its troops following the defeat of the last vestige of IS's "caliphate" in March, the Kurdish-led alliance has opened talks with Damascus.
But its leaders are determined not to accept the negotiated surrender of a "reconciliation agreement" like those imposed by Damascus on various rebel groups, and on Friday convened a conference of Arab tribes to seek their support.
The state SANA news agency quoted a foreign ministry source as accusing organisers of the conference in the alliance-held but mainly Arab town of Ain Issa of "treason".
It claimed that the meeting in a town "held by armed militia dependent on the United States and some European countries" had ended in "failure" as a result of a "boycott by most of the tribes".
"Such gatherings are clear embodiments of the treason of their organisers, whatever their political, ethnic or racial allegiances," the source added.
In his address to Friday's conference, the leader of the Syrian Democratic Forces, Mazloum Kobani, said that Damascus would need to recognise the authority of the Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria as well as the "special status" of the alliance and its role in defending the region against IS.
He said there could be no going back to the situation before the civil war erupted in 2011 when the Kurds were denied any official recognition as a minority that accounts for some 15 percent of the population.
"It is not possible to reach a democratic and pluralistic Syria without full recognition of the rights of Syria's Kurds," he said.
The SDF has been cornered into seeking an accommodation with Damascus by two-pronged pressure from the looming US troop withdrawal and a longstanding threat by Turkey to send troops across the border to end the experiment in self-rule by Kurdish forces it regards as “terrorists".
Last week, Syrians in Deir az-Zour protested for almost a week against the Kurdish forces that have controlled the oil-rich province since seizing it from the Islamic State group, protesters, tribal chiefs and residents confirmed.
Many Arab residents of the area feel the SDF has stripped them of their wealth after taking over the lucrative oil trade from IS when it defeated the extremist group in the province in 2017.
“Where is our oil? We won’t accept after today to transport our wealth outside our areas,” read a banner held by protesters in al-Shanan.
Along a major highway which runs from Deir az-Zour to Hasaka and is used by tankers carrying oil, demonstrators burned tires, and residents, protesters and tribal chiefs told reporters that tankers from the nearby Omar oil field - the largest under the control of the YPG - had been turned back by angry locals.
Residents in Husayn, where protests have been particularly well-attended, have chanted: "No to Kurdish occupation".
The YPG is the military wing of the PYD, which asserted autonomous control over three provinces in northern Syria with large Kurdish populations in 2012, but since pushing IS out of its territories under the SDF umbrella, Kurdish forces have also gained control over majority-Arab areas.
Arab residents of eastern Syria have complained that the YPG-led SDF administrations seems to favour the Kurdish majority areas of northern Syria and has neglected Arab areas, where living conditions are poor and many towns remain without electricity.
When the SDF ousted IS from Deir az-Zour, the YPG also gained access to some of Syria's largest oil fields.
By beating Syrian regime forces and their Russian backers to the prize, the YPG also gained a controversial customer.
In recent weeks, it has increased shipments of oil to the Syrian regime as Damascus struggles to deal with acute fuel shortages, caused in part by US sanctions on Iran.
Follow us on Twitter: @The_NewArab