A Syrian civilian was killed and another wounded in a rare clash between US troops and a group of government supporters who tried to block a United States convoy driving through a village in northeastern Syria, state media reported.
The Syrian state-run media on Wednesday said the killed man was among residents of a village east of the town of Qamishli who had gathered at an army checkpoint, pelting the US convoy with stones and taking down a US flag from one of the vehicles.
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At that point, US troops fired with live ammunition and smoke bombs at the residents, the report said.
A US military spokesman said coalition forces conducting a patrol near Qamishli encountered the checkpoint occupied by pro-Syrian government forces.
“After coalition troops issued a series of warnings and de-escalation attempts, the patrol came under small arms fire from unknown individuals,” said Colonel Myles Caggins, a spokesman for the US-led coalition.
“In self-defence, coalition troops returned fire,” he said.
Hundreds of US troops are stationed in northeastern Syria, working with their local partners from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to fight against the ISIL (ISIS) group.
Videos posted on social media appeared to show residents quarrelling with US military personnel.
The SAA prevented today a US convoy from crossing Khirbet Amo, south Qamishli, and the villagers supported the SAA and threw stones on the US patrol which shot & killed 1 civilian. In the video, a civilian tells the occupation: “You cannot pass even if there are 100 agreements.” pic.twitter.com/I2ehR4k47N
— Kevork Almassian (@KevorkAlmassian) February 12, 2020
Residents said a Russian patrol from a contingent in Qamishli airport was sent to the village, which lies in an area in northeast Syria where Russian, US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces and the Syrian army all have a presence.
The US carries out patrols in northeastern Syria, but it was not immediately clear why the convoy drove into a government-controlled area.
The incident marks a rare confrontation involving US and Syrian troops in the region where Russian forces are also deployed – and is certain to further escalate tensions.
The Syrian war, now in its ninth year, has Russia supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s government, while Turkey is the rebels’ main backer.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkey will attack Syrian government forces “anywhere in Syria” if another Turkish soldier is hurt.
Forces loyal to al-Assad, backed by Russian air cover, have been advancing into the last rebel-held areas of Idlib and nearby Aleppo countryside, seizing dozens of towns and sparking a large-scale humanitarian crisis.
Under a 2018 agreement with Russia in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Turkey established a dozen military observation posts in Idlib, where it backs some opposition groups.
Several of these posts have been surrounded by government forces in recent weeks. At least 13 Turkish soldiers have been killed by Syrian artillery fire this month.