Turkey opens border: Turkey Syrian Refugees
Published: June 15, 2015
Turkey opens border: Turkey Syrian Refugees, Thousands of Syrians cut through a border fence and crossed over into Turkey on Sunday, fleeing intense fighting in northern Syria between Kurdish fighters and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The flow of refugees came as Syrian Kurdish fighters closed in on the outskirts of a strategic ISIL-held town on the Turkish border, Kurdish officials and an activist group said, potentially cutting off a key supply line for the extremists’ nearby de facto capital.
Taking Tal Abyad, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa, would deprive the militant group of a direct route to bring in new foreign militants or supplies. The Kurdish advance, coming under the cover of intense U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in the area, would also link their two fronts and put even more pressure on Raqqa.
In this Turkish border village, the refugees took by surprise the Turkish troops stationed there, who were overwhelmed by the large number of people crowding the crossing. Thousands of people had been gathering for more than a day on the Syrian side of the Akcakale border crossing before they broke through Sunday afternoon.
People threw their belongings over the fence while others passed infants into Turkey over barbed wires before following through a several-meter wide opening in the border fence.
Turkish troops later brought in reinforcements and gathered up the refugees on the Turkish side of the border, preventing them from going deeper into Turkey.
It was earlier stated by the mayor of Akçakale, Abdülhakim Ayhan, that ISIL was not allowing the Syrians to enter into Turkey. ISIL is known to use civilians as human shields during clashes and treat civilians in an inhumane fashion, selling women and children into slavery and beheading men.
News reports said that ISIL militants were blocking the route of civilians hoping to enter through the the border of Akçakale. Many Syrians then tried to enter Turkey by tearing holes in the large border fence, in the hope of escaping ISIL militants. The refugees were repelled by soldiers, Ayhan said that Turkish authorities were discussing how best to allow the civilians into Turkey.
Some 13,000 refugees have already crossed into Turkey in the last 10 days, according to the Foreign Ministry. Hundreds more are waiting on the Syrian side of the Akçakale border crossing. On Saturday, Turkish military forces prevented the refugees from entering Turkish territory and some soldiers even fired shots into the air. Militants who appeared to be ISIL members forced the refugees waiting at the border, mostly Kurds and Turkmens, to go back to their towns. Some of the refugees were seen trying to convince Turkish soldiers to allow children into the Turkish side.
A member of the moderate Syrian opposition from Tel Abyad, Ekrem Dade, told Today’s Zaman over the weekend that due to the Kurdish People’s Defense Units’ (YPG) shelling the town, many people had to go to the Turkish border. He asked for the Turkish Red Crescent’s help, saying that people in town are in need of water urgently. He said a large number of those people are Turkmens and the temperature is close to 42 degrees. “Don’t let us in through the border. But give us water. Two of our children died recently out of thirst and sickness. There is no doctor left in town,” he said.
Dade also said that ISIL militants are executing tens of people in the town. In the meantime, the US-led coalition forces attacked ISIL targets around Tel Abyad on Saturday and 20 civilians died in the attack.
A statement by the main Syrian Kurdish fighting force, known as the YPG, said its fighters have encircled the ISIL-held town of Suluk, a few kilometers southwest of the strategically important town of Tel Abyad. The YPG is the military arm of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). Turkey says the PYD has links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU. But US officials say that the PYD is not a terrorist organization under US law. The US military air-dropped weapons to the PYD forces fighting against ISIL militants in Kobani, a Syrian border town, last October despite Turkey’s warnings that the US not help the PYD.
The YPG statement said ISIL militants have “lost control” over Suluk and Kurdish forces were advancing toward Tel Abyad. It also said the road linking Tel Abyad with Raqqa was under YPG control. The report could not be immediately confirmed. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Kurds were less than 10 kilometers away from Tel Abyad. The loss of Tel Abyad would be a major blow to ISIL.
The border town is a major avenue for commerce for the extremist group, through which it smuggles in foreign fighters and sells black-market oil. The city is also a key link between Turkey and the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the de-facto capital of ISIL’s self-declared caliphate.
In Syria, a country now split mostly between Islamic militants and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, the US has found a reliable partner in the country’s strongest Kurdish militia, the YPG.
Since the beginning of May, they have wrested back more than 200 Kurdish and Christian towns in northeastern Syria, as well as strategic mountains seized earlier by ISIL. They have recently pushed into Raqqa province, a stronghold of ISIL. Along the way, they have picked up ammunition, weapons and vehicles left behind by the jihadis.
At the Akçakale border crossing, an Associated Press team witnessed hundreds of Syrians, many of them with suitcases and other belongings, standing on the other side. At one point, a group of armed, masked men — likely ISIL militants — approached them and ordered them to return to the town. Fearful, many of them turned back, only to return after about 15 minutes.
Capturing Tel Abyad would open a direct line between Kurdish-controlled territories along the border with Turkey, linking up Kurdish-controlled areas in Hasaka province to the west with Kobani to the east. Such a move is likely to anger Turkey, which sees the YPG as part of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
ISIL still holds about a third of Iraq and Syria, including Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul. ISIL fighters continue to battle Iraqi security forces and Shiite militiamen for territory north and east of the capital, Baghdad.
Reuters news agency reported on Saturday that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based organization that tracks the war, said the YPG fighters were now halfway between Suluk and Tel Abyad. With the help of US-led air strikes, the YPG fended off an ISIL attack on the border town of Kobani, or Ayn al-Arab, in January. Since then, the YPG has emerged as the most significant partner on the ground in Syria for the US-led alliance that is trying to roll back ISIL.
Washington has ruled out the idea of partnering with President Bashar al-Assad, who last month lost the city of Palmyra in central Syria to ISIL — the first time it seized a city directly from government control.
President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan on Thursday accused the West of bombing Arabs and Turkmens in Syria while supporting Kurdish “terrorist” groups he said were filling the void left behind.
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