* Kurds increasingly under attack by Syrian government
* Kurdish areas hitherto spared worst of Syria's civil war
* Syria's Kurds fear could be target of Islamist groups
By Alexandra Hudson
BERLIN, April 18 (Reuters) - Bombings of Kurdish areas in
Syria suggest that Syrian Kurds, long detached from the revolt
against President Bashar al-Assad, are increasingly being
targeted by his forces after they struck deals with rebels
fighting to topple him, a Kurdish leader said.
Saleh Muslim, head of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party
(PYD), said a recent wave of Syrian army attacks may have been
prompted by non-aggression pacts reached between Kurds and some
moderate factions in the rebel forces.
Another possible reason, he told Reuters in an interview,
was that Assad feared Turkey - which has harboured Syrian rebels
and called on him to quit - could also aid Syrian Kurds after
entering peace talks with its own restive Kurdish minority.
"Maybe the (Syrian) government was bothered about these
agreements. We also had such agreements with some small groups
in Aleppo, and so because of that they bombed our areas," Muslim
told Reuters in an interview in Berlin.
"Maybe will think we are getting some help from
Turkey, but this is not true."
Eleven civilians were killed when a Syrian warplane bombed a
Kurdish village in the oil-producing province of Hasaka in
northeastern Syria on Sunday, Kurdish activists said. It was the
biggest loss of Kurdish life from government attacks since the
start of the two-year-old uprising against Assad.
A Kurdish district of the northern city of Aleppo, Sheikh
Maqsoud, has also been battered by air strikes that have killed
47 civilians over the last 15 days, Muslim said.
"From the beginning we decided not to be a part of this
blind fighting going ahead between Damascus and others ... Our
policy has been self defence, the right to protect ourselves,
protect our Kurdish areas."
Mistrust between Syria's Sunni Muslim Arab majority and its
Kurds, who comprise an estimated 9-10 percent of the population
and are also largely Sunni, deepened as the Sunni-led uprising
gathered steam. In the process, Kurds asserted control in parts
of the northeast where their community predominates.
Arab figures in the opposition are suspicious that the Kurds
may set up an autonomous province spanning those areas.
For their part, Syrian Kurdish politicians accuse the Arab
anti-Assad opposition of ignoring Kurdish rights and seeking to
dominate the oil-producing northeast, which accounts for a large
proportion of Syria's crude production.
"The Kurdish provinces are rich provinces; everyone is
trying to get these areas under their control. Maybe not just
Assad's forces, maybe also others in future," Muslim said.
In February a ceasefire was signed between Syrian rebels and
a Kurdish militia, the Popular Protection Units (YPG), who had
been clashing for months in a town near the Turkish border.
Muslim said YPG forces were training in the
Kurdish-controlled areas of Derik, Kobani and Afrin. They had
more than 10,000 fighters, he said, and could call on most of
the Kurdish population for support. Kurds had started fighting
back against government forces after being attacked, he added.
Asked if the Kurds could yet join forces with the Sunni
Arab-led Free Syrian Army, Muslim said this could happen only if
the FSA committed to a democratic, secular Syria. But, he said,
the FSA includes radical Islamic Salafists and jihadists and
only a fraction of it is native Syrian.
Syria's conflict started with mainly peaceful demonstrations
but descended into a civil war in which the United Nations says
at least 70,000 people have been killed. Islamist militants have
emerged as the most potent of the anti-Assad insurgents.
Asked about PYD aims, Muslim said Syrian Kurds hoped to
achieve democratic self determination. "It is not like classical
autonomy, we don't want to draw any borders, also because we
have half a million Kurds living in (the capital) Damascus."
An end to the violence could be achieved with a political
resolution, he said, but he feared the Arab League had chosen
the route of prolonged armed conflict in Syria.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)