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Syrian Kurds further push for autonomy

| Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, 8:36 p.m.

BEIRUT — Syria's Kurds dramatically have strengthened their hold on the far northeast reaches of the country.

The Kurds have carved out territory as they drive out Islamic militant fighters allied to the rebellion. This week, they have declared their own civil administration in areas under their control amid the chaos of the civil war.

The moves could be a first step toward creating an autonomous region similar to one that Kurds run across the border as virtually a separate country within Iraq.

The Kurds' drive, however, has angered rebels fighting to topple Syria's President Bashar Assad. Some Kurds suspect the main faction leading the fighting and the administration is acting on behalf of Assad to undermine the rebellion.

Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Syria, making up more than 10 percent of the country's 23 million people. They are centered in the impoverished northeastern province of Hassakeh, wedged between the borders of Turkey and Iraq.

The declaration of their own civil administration on Tuesday is a sign of Kurds' growing confidence after taking control of most of Hassakeh province in an offensive against jihadis that has accelerated in recent months. The fighters, known as the People's Protection Units, have driven militants out of a string of towns. Activists said Kurdish fighters have captured nine villages from jihadis.

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