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US-backed fighters push ahead in their offensive in east Syria against tribespeople

QAMISHLI, Syria (AP) — U.S.-backed fighters brought in reinforcements into eastern Syria and pushed ahead in their offensive Saturday against local tribespeople, saying that hundreds of pro-government gunmen have joined the worst battles in the region in years.

The clashes that broke out Monday after the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces detained a former ally who headed an Arab-led faction in the region have left more than 50 people dead and dozens wounded.

The clashes are the most intense in areas where hundreds of U.S. troops have been deployed since 2015 to help in the fight against the Islamic State group. The extremists once controlled large parts of Syria and Iraq until their defeat in March 2019.

The U.S. military on Thursday called for an end to days of fighting warning it may help the resurgence of the Islamic State group.

On Saturday, the SDF and local tribesman clashed in an area between the village of Dhiban and al-Omar oil field, Syria’s largest oil facility and home to one of the largest U.S. bases in the war-torn country, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights, an opposition war monitor.

Khaled Zeino, an SDF commander, told The Associated Press that his forces were moving ahead to reach the villages of Shheil and Baseera to cut the flow of supplies from the west bank of the Euphrates River, where government forces and Iran-backed militias are based.

Zeino added that some 400 fully equipped fighters had crossed from the government side. He said small boats were being used to take wounded gunmen for treatment on the west bank, where government troops are deployed.

On Friday evening, the SDF declared a 48-hour curfew on the east bank of the Euphrates.

The Observatory said six days of fighting have left at least 54 people dead and dozens others wounded.

On any day, there are at least 900 U.S. forces in eastern Syria, along with an undisclosed number of contractors. They partner with the SDF to work to prevent an IS comeback.

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Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.