Syrian Kurds fear increasing attacks from Assad forces

* Kurds increasingly under attack by Syrian government

forces

* 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."

KURDISH-ARAB TENSIONS

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)

UNDERSTANDING THE SYRIA CONFLICT