Pro-regime drive a tank in the Syrian northeastern city of Hasakeh, where Kurdish forces are advancing, on August 21, 2016
Hasakeh (Syria) (AFP) - Kurdish fighters on Monday captured the central prison in Hasakeh after fierce clashes with Syrian regime forces and are in control of 90 percent of the northern city, a monitor said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighting escalated after heavy overnight clashes that saw the Kurds make advances mostly in the south of the flashpoint city.
Hasakeh, capital of the northeastern province of the same name, is already mostly controlled by Kurdish forces although the majority of its residents are Arabs.
Regime and Kurdish forces share a common enemy in the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, but tensions have been growing between the two sides in Hasakeh leading to the latest clashes.
After hours of calm late Sunday, clashes broke out after midnight in the southern district of Ghweiran and around the buildings of Al-Masaken, which the Kurds later captured, said the monitor.
They also routed regime forces from the eastern part of Ghweiran, the largest neighbourhood in Hasakeh, and overran the An-Nashwa area in the south of the city.
The Kurdish forces also seized control of the central prison located in Ghweiran, said the Observatory.
"The Kurds now control 90 percent of the city," said the Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources on the ground.
A Kurdish official in the city had earlier said that Kurdish police known as the Asayesh were in control of 85 percent of Hasakeh.
"The areas that have been captured will not be returned to the regime. They will remain under Asayesh control," Meskin Ahmed said in an online conference call with reporters.
The Observatory said the fighting came as Russian officials pressed mediation efforts amid conflicting reports on whether a truce had been agreed.
Syrian military source and state media had said a ceasefire deal had been reached but the Kurds denied this.
A journalist working with AFP confirmed that clashes were heard in southern and central Hasakeh and that pro-government fighters could be seen retreating from parts of Ghweiran.
- Russian mediation -
Clashes erupted last week between the Asayesh and the pro-government National Defence Forces militia (NDF). It escalated Thursday when regime warplanes bombarded Kurdish-held positions in the city for the first time.
That action came close to sparking the intervention of US warplanes when Washington warned against strikes that might endanger its military advisers with the Kurds on the ground.
The fighting in Hasakeh has also drawn in the Syrian army and the powerful Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).
Kurds, who run autonomous institutions across much of northeast Syria, have often called for the dissolution of the NDF.
In an attempt to end the violence, Russian officials based at Hmeimim military airport on the coast flew to the nearby city of Qamishli to hold mediation talks.
A Syrian military source told AFP late Sunday that a ceasefire deal had been reached to end hostilities, hand back any new positions seized during the clashes and evacuate the wounded to Qamishli.
On Monday, a Syrian military source accused the YPG of "violating the agreement by refusing to allow safe passage for the dead and wounded to reach Qamishli".
But Kurdish sources have insisted that no agreement was reached at all.
One official in the Kurdish autonomous administration said talks "via indirect mediation" were still discussing "the dissolution of the NDF in Hasakeh".
He said Kurdish forces "have no plans as of now to seize control of all of Hasakeh".