The two videos, shot sometime in the early morning, are of a sad spectacle: civilians fleeing their homes in cars, on motorbikes, atop a lorry, on foot.
Some are taking their meagre belongings with them: blankets, a few bags – one family even has a sheep. Some are taking nothing at all.
In the background, the cameraman’s voice says that the inhabitants of Tel Hasil, a small Kurdish-majority town east of Aleppo, are fleeing because the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), two radical Islamist groups, said they would shell the town.
The cameraman belongs to the Kurdish Front Brigade, a Kurdish faction that is in control of the town, fighting the Islamists.
What happened in the following few days is difficult to establish with certainty.
According to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR), a monitoring group based in the United Kingdom with a network of activists in Syria, the Islamists took control of Tel Hasil and neighbouring Tal Aran and killed at least 26 people, 16 of them civilians, including a young girl.
The killing and kidnapping of non-combatants is widespread in this war-wrecked country, where as many as 110,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the last two years.
But these cases suggest that the conflict between the mainly Arab rebels and Kurdish militias, continuing since last November, is taking an ever-growing toll on civilians and with increasingly ethnic hues.
While initial reports spoke of hundreds of victims in Tel Hasil and Tel Aran, an investigation in August by the Kurdish Regional Government of Iraq, based on interviews with several survivors, said that 17 to 25 people may have been killed.
The case is only one of dozens of abuses reportedly committed against Kurdish and Arab civilians since mid-July in northern Syria.
The Democratic Union Party (PYD), the main Kurdish faction, controls the Kurdish-majority areas of northern Syria and is vying for autonomy.
The mainly Arab rebels don’t want to accept this and accuse the PYD of being in league with the Syrian government.
The fighting between them has killed hundreds of militants in the north-east and around Kurdish-majority pockets near Aleppo.
The SOHR has documented several cases where ISIS kidnapped scores of Kurdish civilians, mainly in the Aleppo area, sometimes accusing them of supporting the PYD.
While many of the victims have been released unharmed, some have reportedly been tortured and killed, and some are still missing.
Few of these cases can be independently verified, as access for journalists to these areas is no longer possible. But they fit into a well-documented pattern of abuse and kidnappings, including those of Sunni Arab civilians, that the ISIS has visited on the areas it controls in Syria.
The war drives wedges between Kurds and Arabs, even if it is merely the result of the fighting rather than of deliberate policy. SOHR has reported that some Kurdish families who had fled the fighting in the Turkish border town of Tel Abyad in July had their houses demolished because the ISIS suspected them of having links to the PYD.
According to Kurdish officials in Ras El Ayn several Arab families who had cooperated with the rebels until their eviction by the Kurdish militia in July had fled along with the rebels. Two Arab civilians interviewed said that a Kurdish offensive south of the city of Qamishly and north of the Iraqi border town of Yaroubiya in September emptied many Arab villages.
One of them, a pharmacist named Ali Alali, said the villagers fled because the Kurdish militia had arrested many Arabs for suspected collaboration with the ISIS. He said he himself had been detained by the Kurds, although they eventually released him unharmed.
Inside the Kurdish areas, peace seems to be holding so far among the north-east’s three main communities: Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Christian Arabs. Sunni Arabs interviewed in early September said they had experienced little hostility from their Kurdish neighbours since the PYD took control more than a year ago.
“The PYD tells us they don’t want an ethnic war and that we have to build the country together,” said an Arab man in the town of Al Malikiyah who gave his name only as Ali.
“It is worse with the Kurdish National Council [KNC, the PYD’s main political rival]. Sometimes we hear bad words from them, that this is not your land, things like that. If the KNC were in power here, we would have problems,” he added.
Their situation is made more difficult by the fact that many Arabs in the Kurdish area were government employees and members of the ruling Baath party. Unlike Christians and Kurds, they now lack effective representation, although some young Sunnis have joined the PYD’s armed wing.
Fearful of the jihadi groups that are fighting to build a strict Islamic order, Christian Arabs said they were grateful to the Kurdish militia for protecting them from the radicals.
The Greek Orthodox church in Al Malikiya has a huge poster on its facade, depicting two bishops who were kidnapped in Aleppo by radical groups.
Under their picture a sign in Arabic and English reads: “We are praying for their souls.”
There is, however, a significant source of tension between the local Kurds and Sunni Arabs.
Many of the Arabs are what some locals call “settler Arabs”.
They arrived in the 1970s as part of a government Arabisation scheme that sought to insert an “Arab belt”, a 200 kilometre strip along the border with Turkey, between the Kurds of Syria and those of Turkey.
Many of these Arabs, including Ali, live on land that was confiscated from Kurdish families.
Civan Abd (not his real name), a young Kurdish man from a village near Al Malikiyah, says his family is among those whose land was taken by the government and some family members had to move to the town of Ras El Ayn.
Potentially storing up problems for the future, the PYD is hatching a plan that would invite the “settler Arabs” to leave their land in return for financial compensation.
“This land was stolen from the Kurds,” said Mohammed Said, the leading PYD official in Al Malikiyah. “We will have to take it back. They will be fully compensated and then they can decide whether they want to stay or go. But this is a task for a future democratic government of Syria.”
Civan, for his part, supported such a scheme.
“These people are settlers. They took our land. Let them go back to Raqqa, there is plenty of land there,” he said, referring to a governorate east of Aleppo where some of the Arabs came from. Many of them had themselves been displaced from their land after a large-scale dam-building project in the 1970s on the Euphrates river.
People in Syria are often quick to stress that their nation has traditionally been tolerant of ethnic and religious diversity, and for the most part that has been true.
But relations between Arabs and Kurds have been difficult for a long time, even before the Assad regime took power in 1970, partly because of the Arabist ideology the Syrian state has championed since the 1950s.
Notwithstanding the generally amicable relationship among the region’s various ethnic and religious groups, mildly racist sentiments are not unusual among Kurds and Arabs.
Civan – an English-speaker in his mid-twenties with a high-school education – is largely contemptuous of the Arab settlers: he says they don’t work the land as well as the Kurds and don’t know how to plant fruit trees.
Many of the Sunni Arab rebels are defectors from the Syrian army.
They often retain its strongly Arab-centric ideology that leaves no place for non-Arab minorities in the official Syrian narrative. Also, most rebel groups are increasingly characterised by a militant Islamism, while Kurdish factions tend to be secular nationalist.
The north-eastern command of the Free Syrian Army, the more moderate rebel grouping, recently tweeted the widely-held view among many Sunni Arabs that the Kurds are not native to the area and migrated to Syria from Turkey.
The same argument was used by the Assad regime to rob more than 100,000 Kurds of their Syrian citizenship after 1963.
A recent agreement between the KNC and the Syrian National Coalition, the rebels’ political backer, includes some welcome elements.
In return for the KNC joining the coalition’s ranks, it offers a limited recognition of Kurdish national aspirations, hitherto missing from the opposition’s platform.
The agreement, however, hasn’t been recognised by the PYD, the dominant Kurdish faction.
Balint Szlanko is a freelance journalist with an interest in conflict, Afghanistan and the Middle East.