Kurds issue new call to arms against Islamic State in Syria

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SHAFAQNA –  Kurdish militants in Turkey have issued a new call to arms to defend a border town in northern Syria from advancing Islamic State fighters, and the Turkish authorities and United Nations prepared on Sunday for a surge in refugees. About 70,000 Syrian Kurds have fled into Turkey since Friday as Islamic State fighters seized dozens of villages close to the border and advanced on the frontier town of Ayn al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish. Carol Batchelor, the United Nations refugee agency’s (UNHCR) representative in Turkey said the real figure may be more than 100,000 as Turkey faces one of the biggest influxes of refugees from Syria since the war there began more than three years ago. “I don’t think in the last three and a half years we have seen 100,000 cross in two days. So this is a bit of a measure of how this situation is unfolding and the very deep fear people have about the circumstances inside Syria, and for that matter Iraq.” A Kurdish commander on the ground said Islamic State had advanced to within 15 km (9 miles) of Kobani, whose strategic location has been blocking the radical Sunni Muslim militants from consolidating their gains across northern Syria.

A Kurdish politician from Turkey who visited Kobani on Saturday said locals had told him Islamic State fighters were beheading people as they went from village to village.

“Rather than a war this is a genocide operation … They are going into the villages and cutting the heads of one or two people and showing them to the villagers,” Ibrahim Binici, a deputy for Turkey’s pro-Kurdish HDP, told Reuters.

“It is truly a shameful situation for humanity,” he said, calling for international intervention. Five of his fellow MPs planned a hunger strike outside U.N. offices in Geneva to press for action, he said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors Syria’s civil war, said clashes overnight killed 10 insurgents, bringing the number of Islamic State fighters killed to at least 39. At least 27 Kurdish fighters have died.

Islamic State has seized at least 64 villages around Kobani since Tuesday, using heavy arms and thousands of fighters. It executed at least 11 civilians on Saturday, including at least two boys, the Observatory said.

“We now urgently need medicines and equipment for operations. We have many casualties,” Welat Avar, a doctor in Kobani told Reuters by telephone.

“ISIL (Islamic State) killed many people in the villages. They cut off the heads of two people, I saw it with my own eyes,” he said, referring to an incident in the village of Chelebi, near Kobani.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a rebel group which has spent three decades fighting for autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds, renewed a call for the youth of Turkey’s mostly Kurdish southeast to rise up and rush to save Kobani.

“Supporting this heroic resistance is not just a debt of honor of the Kurds but all Middle East people. Just giving support is not enough, the criterion must be taking part in the resistance,” it said in a statement on its website.

“ISIL fascism must drown in the blood it spills … The youth of North Kurdistan (southeast Turkey) must flow in waves to Kobani,” it said.

Hundreds of security forces cleared the border area south of Suruc of a couple of thousand people who had gathered in solidarity with Kobani for a third day on the Turkish side of the barbed wire fence, where many of the refugees have crossed.

After gendarmes fired water cannon and tear gas, people began to flee the border zone on foot and in vehicles, while some threw stones at the security forces.

REFUGEE INFLUX

The United States has said it is prepared to carry out air strikes in Syria to stop the advance of Islamic State, which has also seized tracts of territory in neighboring Iraq and has proclaimed a caliphate in the heart of the Middle East.

U.S. forces have bombed the group in Iraq at the request of the government, but it is unclear when or where any military action might take place in Syria, whose president, Bashar al-Assad, Washington says is no longer legitimate.

Western states have increased contact with the main Syrian Kurdish political party, the PYD, since Islamic State made a lightning advance across northern Iraq in June. Its political wing, the YPG, says it has 50,000 fighters and should be a natural partner in any U.S.-led coalition.

But such cooperation could prove difficult because of Syrian Kurds’ ties to the PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Ankara, the United States and European Union due to the militant campaign it has waged in Turkey.

The PKK accuses Turkey of covertly supporting Islamic State as part of a strategy to crush Kurdish militancy, and said Ankara was collaborating in the attack on Kobani.

Ankara has backed Syrian rebel groups fighting Assad but has repeatedly strongly denied any suggestion that it has supported Islamic State or other radical militants, saying they pose a major security threat to Turkey.

A radio station broadcasting from Kobani played patriotic Kurdish songs, which residents in Turkey listened to in their cars. Recordings were played of PKK commander Murat Karayilan as announcers sought to drum up support for the call to arms.

UNHCR and Turkish authorities said they were preparing for the possibility of hundreds of thousands more refugees to arrive in the coming days.

Kobani’s relative stability through much of Syria’s conflict meant 200,000 internally displaced people were sheltering there before Islamic State’s advance, UNHCR said.

“This massive influx shows how important it is to offer and preserve asylum space for Syrians as well as the need to mobilize international support to the neighboring countries,” said António Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Kurdish forces have evacuated at least 100 villages on the Syrian side since the militants’ onslaught started on Tuesday.

Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani called on Friday for international intervention to protect Kobani, saying Islamic State insurgents must be “hit and destroyed wherever they are”.

“The people who are here today, young and old, women and children, are all prepared to cross over to Kobani and defend it,” said Gultan Kisanak, the mayor of Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast, sitting in a plowed field by the border. Kobani will “never fall”, she said.

(Additional reporting by Sylvia Westall in Beirut, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Jonny Hogg in Ankara and Seyhmus Cakan in Diyarbakir; Writing by Nick Tattersall and Seda Sezer; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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