THE number of refugees seeking shelter in Turkey from the Islamic State (IS) group’s advance across north-eastern Syria has hit 100,000, the authorities said yesterday, as clashes broke out on the border between Turkish security guards and Kurds.
Fuat Oktay, head of Turkey’s disaster management agency, said the figure related to Syrians escaping the area near the border town Kobani, where fighting has raged between IS and Kurdish fighters since last Thursday.
The UN refugee agency said about 70,000 Syrians had crossed into Turkey in the past 24 hours, and that it was preparing for the arrival of hundreds of thousands more.
The Syrian refugees – most of them ethnic Kurds – were desperate to reach Turkey and escape the advance of religious extremists barrelling across Syria.
Heavy clashes broke out between IS and Kurdish fighters only a few miles from Kobani, which is also known as Ayn Arab. IS fighters were bombarding villagers with tanks, artillery and multiple rocket launchers, according to Nasser Haj Mansour, an official at the defence office in Syria’s Kurdish Region.
“They are even targeting civilians who are fleeing,” he said.
As refugees flooded in, Turkey closed the border crossing at Kucuk Kendirciler – a village about a mile from Kobani – to Turkish Kurds, with local police saying they were seeking to prevent Kurdish fighters from entering Syria.
Clashes broke out as Kurds trying to approach the crossing from inside Turkey scuffled with security forces, who attacked crowds with tear gas, paint pellets and water.
The state-run Anadolu Agency reported that Kurdish protesters had hurled stones at the security forces.
The pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions’ Party said two people had been seriously injured in the clashes, including one Kurdish legislator who was hospitalised. The party said the Kurds had been protesting about the IS attacks as well as the border closure.
The sound of gunfire could be heard from the Syrian side of the frontier, where refugees were piling up after authorities shut the crossing.
Mohammed Osman Hamme, a middle-aged Syrian Kurdish refugee who managed to make his way across, said he had fled ten days ago with his wife and small children from the village of Dariya in the Raqqa province after hearing that fighters from the IS group were headed their way.
The family walked for three days, passing the town of Tell Abiad, near the Turkish border, where they saw four severed heads hanging in the streets, he said.
According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, IS has taken control of 64 villages in north-eastern Syria since the fighting began there early last Wednesday.
It said the fate of 800 Kurds from these villages was unknown, adding that IS had executed 11 civilians, including two boys.
The Aleppo Media Centre, another activist group, said yesterday’s battles had been concentrated in the southern and eastern suburbs of Kobani.
Mr Mansour said the battles were taking place about eight miles from the town.
Selin Unal, a spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency , said most of those coming across the border had been Kurdish women, children and elderly people.
She urged the international community to step up its aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey, who are already estimated to number 1.5 million.
“Turkey is assisting with all needs, but it’s huge numbers,” she said.
Meanwhile, Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan insisted no ransom had been paid for the release of hostages held by IS, but he declined to be drawn on whether their release freed his country’s hand to take a more active stance against the insurgents.
The 46 hostages were taken captive by IS militants in northern Iraq more than three months ago.
On Saturday, Turkish intelligence agents returned them to Turkey, after what Mr Erdogan described as a covert rescue operation.
“A material negotiation is totally out of the question … This is a diplomatic success,” the Turkish president said before leaving for the UN General Assembly in New York.