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Kurdish Women Fighters Help Halt ISIS In Syria

As Islamic terrorists press forward in Syria, female fighters and commanders now make up a third of Kurdish forces. "Women can fight better than men," one says.

Kurdish women training to be fighters.
Kurdish women training to be fighters.
Ahmad Khalil and Karen Leigh

AL-HASAKAH — Ruwayda, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party's (PYD) commander for its first all-female brigade, oversaw 53 fighters to help the Free Syrian Army stop President Bashar al-Assad's forces from entering Aleppo's Kurdish neighborhoods.

After holding off the regime, she and her brigade returned to their home base, the predominantly Kurdish northern city of Afrin, where they then focused their efforts on halting the advance of Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS terrorists.

"I believe in a greater cause, which is protecting our families and our cities from the extremists' brutality and dark ideas," she says. "I read Nietzsche and Marx, which they don't accept. They don't accept having women in leadership positions. They want us to cover ourselves and become housewives to attend to their needs only. They think we have no right to talk and control our lives."

Kurdish women, regarded as some of the most liberal in the region, have a decades-long history of fighting. Many have fought with the internationally recognized terror organization Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) that works with the Kurdish People's Protection Units in southern Turkey.

Now, Ruwayda says, jihadists' repression of women has led many Kurdish to pick up arms, and that about 30% of the People's Protection Units — the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party — is now female.

Britan Derek, 33, a People's Protection Unit commander in Al-Hasakah (another Kurdish-majority city in the north that is threatened by ISIS, because of gains it made during a June takeover of Mosul) has been marching steadily north and east.

"Women can fight better than men," she says. "We remain calm and steadfast. We are usually snipers, or on the fighting fronts. Women don't have much to lose in battle. Men dream of starting a family, or returning to their families. Whereas women who have chosen this path do so willingly. They have no other purpose."

But even among more liberal Kurdish families, daughters must struggle to convince their parents to let them join the fight. Some are just teenagers.

"I quit studying Kurdish and joined training camps in Dirbasiyyah," adds Derek's friend Ameena, 19. "My parents tried to stop me, but they couldn't. My mother didn't talk to me for six months after I joined, but we are back to normal now."

After beginning her studies at a traditional Kurdish language school in Al-Hasakah, Ameena "joined Kurdish training camps, supervised by men and women who came from Turkey, and who have been fighters for decades," says her father, Mohammed.

"I tried to stop Ameena by all means, but I couldn't. Her decision was final. We are born in a liberated society that respects women and their decisions. I never imagined my daughter's decision would be to be a fighter, but I've become very proud of her. She is braver than I am, and stronger than her brothers. When she comes to visit us, all family friends come to take pictures with her."

Names of those quoted in this story have been changed for their protection.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

What Are Iran's Real Intentions? Watch What The Houthis Do Next

Three commercial ships traveling through the Red Sea were attacked by missiles launched by Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels, while the U.S. Navy shot down three drones. Tensions that are linked to the ongoing war in Gaza conflict and that may serve as an indication as to Iran's wider intentions.

photo of Raisi of iran speaking in parliament

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the Iranian parliament in Tehran.

Icana News Agency via ZUMA
Pierre Haski


PARIS — It’s a parallel war that has so far claimed fewer victims and attracted less public attention than the one in Gaza. Yet it increasingly poses a serious threat of escalating at any time.

This conflict playing out in the international waters of the Red Sea, a strategic maritime route, features the U.S. Navy pitted against Yemen's Houthi rebels. But the stakes go beyond the Yemeni militants — with the latter being supported by Iran, which has a hand in virtually every hotspot in the region.

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Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, the Houthis have been making headlines, despite Yemen’s distance from the Gaza front. Starting with missiles launched directed toward southern Israel, which were intercepted by U.S. forces. Then came attacks on ships belonging, or suspected of belonging, to Israeli interests.

On Sunday, no fewer than three commercial ships were targeted by ballistic missiles in the Red Sea. The missiles caused minor damage and no casualties. Meanwhile, three drones were intercepted and destroyed by the U.S. Navy, currently deployed in full force in the region.

The Houthis claimed responsibility for these attacks, stating their intention to block Israeli ships' passage for as long as there was war in Gaza. The ships targeted on Sunday were registered in Panama, but at least one of them was Israeli. In the days before, several other ships were attacked and an Israeli cargo ship carrying cars was seized, and is still being held in the Yemeni port of Hodeida.

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