Beirut: Activists say Kurdish militias and Al Qaida-linked rebel factions are engaged in fierce clashes in northeastern Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the fighting Tuesday between Kurdish gunmen and rebels from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is taking place in three villages near the town of Ras Al Ayn in Hassakeh province.

Hassakeh is home to a large Syrian Kurdish population.

Around 30,000 Syrians, the vast majority of them Kurds, have fled the region in recent days and crossed the border to the self-ruled Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

The fighting between Kurds and Islamist rebel factions in Syria has sharply escalated in recent months, and holds the potential to explode into a full-blown side conflict within the country’s wider civil war.