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Sep 21, 2014 10:58 AM

Syria refugee flood to Turkey hits 100,000

The Associated Press

KUCUK KENDIRCILER, Turkey (AP) The number of refugees seeking shelter in Turkey from the Islamic State group's advance across northern Syria has hit 100,000 in less than a week, an official said Sunday.

The head of Turkey's disaster management agency, Fuat Oktay, said the figure relates to Syrians escaping the area near the Syrian border town of Kobani, where fighting has raged between IS and Kurdish fighters since Thursday.

The U.N. refugee agency said earlier that about 70,000 Syrians have crossed into Turkey in the past 24 hours, and that it was preparing for the arrival of hundreds of thousands more. Those are significant numbers, even in the context of the 1.5 million refugees who've fled to Turkey in the past three-and-a-half years.

Turkish authorities said they were ready to deal with the influx.

"We have been prepared for this," disaster management agency spokesman Dogan Eskinat said. "We are also prepared for worse."

The refugees, most of them ethnic Kurds, have been desperate to reach Turkey and escape the advance of religious extremists barreling across Syria.

On Sunday, heavy clashes broke out between the Islamic State group and Kurdish fighters only a few miles from Kobani, which is also known as Ayn Arab.

The Islamic State group was bombarding villagers with tanks, artillery and multiple rocket launchers, said Nasser Haj Mansour, an official at the defense office in Syria's Kurdish region.

"They are even targeting civilians who are fleeing," Haj Mansour told The Associated Press by telephone.

As refugees flooded in, Turkey closed the border crossing in Kucuk Kendirciler to Turkish Kurds. Local police saying they were seeking to prevent Kurdish fighters from entering Syria. Hundreds of Kurdish fighters entered Syria from Turkey on Saturday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Kucuk Kendirciler is a small village about two kilometers (about a mile) from Kobani.

Clashes broke out as Kurds trying to approach the crossing from inside Turkey scuffled with security forces, which attacked crowds with tear gas, paint pellets and water cannons. The state-run Anadolu Agency reported Kurdish protesters had hurled stones at the security forces.

The pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions' Party said two people were seriously injured in the clashes, including one Kurdish legislator who was hospitalized. The party said the Kurds were protesting the Islamic State group's 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. It wasn't immediately clear whether they were unable to cross or simply waiting to see what would happen.

Mohammed Osman Hamme, a middle-aged Syrian Kurdish refugee who managed to make his way across, told The Associated Press he fled with his wife and small children from the village of Dariya in the Raqqa province 10 days ago after hearing that the Islamic State group was headed their way.

The family walked for three days, passing the town of Tal Abyad, near the Turkish border, where they saw four severed heads hanging in the streets, he said.

During the interview a tear gas gun went off, causing Hamme's terrified daughter to start screaming. Later, Turkish police used armored cars to push people back from the village.

The situation on the other side of the border is dire.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Islamic State group has taken control of 64 villages in northern Syria since the fighting began there early Wednesday. It says that the fate of 800 Kurds from these villages is unknown, adding that the Islamic State group executed 11 civilians, including two boys.

The Aleppo Media Center, another activist group, said that Sunday's battles were concentrated on the southern and eastern suburbs of Kobani. Mansour said the battles are taking place about eight miles (13 kilometers) from the town.

UNHCR spokeswoman Selin Unal said most of those coming across the border are Kurdish women, children and the elderly.

She urged the international community to step up its aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey.

"Turkey is assisting with all needs but it's huge numbers," she said.


Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara. Bassem Mroue in Beirut, and Frank Jordans in Berlin, contributed to this report.


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