A German woman has been killed fighting alongside Kurdish militias against Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria.
The woman, named as 19-year old Ivana Hoffmann, is the first female foreign fighter to be reported killed fighting the extremist group.
Journalist and analyst Wladimir van Wilgenburg, who reports on Kurdish affairs, tweeted a photograph of Hoffmann on March 8 and said she had been killed on March 7 near the town of Tal Tamer in Hasakah Province, around 60 kilometers from Kobani.
Kurdish news outlet Basnews reported that Hoffmann had been a member of the Turkish Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP) which had announced her death. The MLKP reportedly said that Hoffmann, to whom it referred by the nickname Avasin Tekosin Gunes, was "immortal." According to Basnews, the MLKP has sent a number of fighters to Syria to join the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, five of whom have been killed in clashes in Hasakah and Kobani.
Hoffmann had been involved in clashes between IS militants and the Kurdish YPG over a cluster of Assyrian Christian villages near Tal Tamer.
Kurdish forces managed to repel a fresh offensive by IS militants on the Christian villages over the weekend, according to The Wall Street Journal. Local residents and officials have said the attacks on Christian villages in Hasakah Province, which began on February 23, are retaliation for recent battlefield setbacks.
A video uploaded to YouTube on March 8 shows a young German-speaking woman whose face is covered, but who is identified as Hoffmann.
The woman says that she is there to "fight for humanity" and to "fight for freedom" according to a translation by the German website Thelocal.de.The date the video was shot is not known, though the woman says that she has been in the vicinity for a week. Thelocal.de reported that Hoffmann had been fighting with the YPG in Syria for about six months.
The Lions of Rojava Facebook page, which is run by Western volunteers in the YPG, did not mention Hoffmann's death, though it has reported on the deaths of two other Western fighters in the Kurdish militia.
Westerners Fighting For YPG
Though Hoffmann is the first female foreign fighter reported killed fighting alongside the YPG against IS militants, she is not the first Westerner to have been killed in recent clashes.
An Australian man, 28-year-old Ashley Kent Johnston, was reported killed in clashes between YPG and IS on February 26.
A former U.K. Royal Marine, Konstandinos Erik Scurfield from Barnsley, is believed to have died from mortar fire while fighting IS militants in northern Syria last week.
An estimated 100 Westerners are thought to be fighting alongside the YPG in Syria. Britain-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says these 100 Westerners are from Britain, France, Spain, Austria, Australia, Denmark, the United States, and Canada. Around 10 of the 100 are thought to be U.S. Army veterans.
The Kurdish YPG includes female fighters and though most of the Western fighters in the YPG are male veterans, there have been reports that Western women have also joined the Kurdish militia.
Reports emerged last year that a Canadian woman, Gill Rosenberg, had joined the YPG. Rosenberg, aged 31, is a native of Vancouver who moved to Israel in 2006. According to her Facebook page, Rosenberg served in the Israeli Defense Forces Home Front Command in a noncombat role. Since Rosenberg moved to Israel after the age of 20, she would not have been required to undertake mandatory army service, but was eligible to request to volunteer for at least 12 months.
The General Command of the YPG Women's Defense Units issued a statement on March 8 to mark International Women's Day, stating that women had "broke[n] the chains on their body, spirit and lands" in the fight against the IS group.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk