Hundreds of Syrian Kurds Fleeing Islamic State Gather on Turkish Border

Islamic militants armed with heavy weaponry - including tanks - have seized 21 villages near Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani within 24 hours.

Daren Butler
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Turkish security forces stand guard as Syrians wait behind the border fences near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, September 18, 2014.
Daren Butler

REUTERS - Close to a thousand Syrian Kurds gathered on the border seeking to cross into Turkey on Friday after Islamic State fighters seized 21 villages and besieged a Kurdish city in northern Syria, a Reuters witness said.

The crowd of mostly women and children sat behind a barbed wire barrier along the border opposite the Turkish village of Dikmetas, 20 km from the Syrian Kurdish city of Ayn al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish.

The attack on Kobani prompted a Kurdish militant call to the youth of Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast to join the fight against Islamic State (IS) and came days after the U.S. military said the help of Syrian Kurds would be needed against the Islamist militants.

The number of Kurds on the border shrank from about 3,000 on Thursday night, but more were arriving on foot from nearby villages, carrying possessions in sacks, witnesses said. Turkish security forces were not allowing them to cross the border.
"The weather was cold overnight so most went back to their villages. They started coming back to the border this morning," said Halil, a man in his 40s on the Turkish side of the border.

Turkish soldiers armed with rifles formed a line to maintain security along the border but allowed locals on the Turkish side to fling across bottles of water and bags of bread.

"People are continuing to come on foot and by vehicle. We expect their numbers to swell to 3,000-4,000," said village official Huseyin Gundogdu.

He said military and humanitarian officials had visited the area and were telling the Syrian Kurds they would be offered aid further along the Syrian side of the border nearer Kobani.

'Aid within Syria's borders'

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the governors of border provinces in Turkey, where Kurdish militants have waged a decades-long insurgency to push for greater autonomy, had been ordered to extend aid to refugees on Syria's side of the border.

"We're ready to help our brothers who are building up at the borders regardless of their ethnicity, religion and sect. But our priority is to deliver aid within Syria's borders," he told reporters in Ankara on Thursday.

U.S. President Barack Obama said last week he would not hesitate to strike the Islamic State group, which has used Syria as a base to advance its plan to reshape the Middle East according to its radical vision of Sunni Islam.

The United States is conducting air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and last month Obama authorised surveillance flights over Syria.

Islamic State fighters, armed with heavy weaponry including tanks, have seized 21 villages near Kobani in the last 24 hours, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks Syria's civil war, said on Thursday.

Western states have expanded contact with the main Syrian Kurdish party, the PYD, since Islamic State seized wide areas of Iraq in June.

The YPG, the main Kurdish armed group in Syria, says it has 50,000 fighters and should be a natural partner in a coalition the United States is trying to assemble to fight Islamic State.

But the Syrian Kurds' relationship with the West is complicated by their ties to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) - a group listed as a terrorist organisation in many Western states because of the militant campaign it waged for Kurdish rights in Turkey.