Osman Orsal / Reuters

Thousands flee into Turkey from Syria as Kurds battle ISIL

Refugees pour in as rebels, Kurdish forces fight ISIL near border; separately, monitors say Nusra Front kills 20 Druze

Thousands of people fled from Syria into Turkey this week as rebels and Kurdish forces battled Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters who are holding the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad.

The refugees, many of them women and children, entered Turkey on Wednesday through a makeshift border crossing overseen by Turkish gendarmerie officers.

A Turkish official said 2,000 refugees were being registered Wednesday after more than 6,800 were admitted in the area last week. He said they were fleeing advances by Kurdish YPG forces as well as aerial bombardment by the United States and Arab allies trying to help the Kurds push back ISIL.

The northeastern corner of Syria is important to ISIL because it links areas under its control in Syria and Iraq.

The group last week launched an offensive on the provincial capital, the city of Hasaka, which is divided into zones run separately by the government of President Bashar al-Assad and a Kurdish administration.

But Syria's Kurds have also sought to take advantage of Syria's complex war to expand their control over a region, stretching from Kobani to Qamishli, that they see as part of a future Kurdish state.

Turkey, for its part, fears that this will encourage separatism in its own, adjacent Kurdish region.

The Turkish official said it appeared that all the refugees were Syrian or Iraqi Arabs, rather than Kurds. 

"A significant demographic change is taking place in the area. Arabs are being pushed away as Kurds flow in," he said. "Moving forward, the native population of the region might not have a place to go back to."

Druze killed

Separately, Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria has killed at least 20 Druze after a confrontation in the northwestern province of Idlib, where the group has forced hundreds of members of the minority sect to covert to Sunni Islam, an activist group and a Syrian opposition faction said Thursday.

The killings occurred Wednesday in the Druze village of Qalb Lawzeh in the Jabal al-Summaq region, where Nusra Front fighters have dug up historic graves and destroyed shrines in recent months.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the shooting occurred after the Nusra Front tried to confiscate the home of a Druze government official in the village. It said fighters shot one villager dead, prompting another villager to grab one of the fighters' rifles and kill a member of the group.

The Observatory said Nusra Front fighters later brought reinforcements and opened fire, killing 20 residents.

The main Western-backed Syrian National Coalition said "dozens of Druze young men" were killed in the shooting. It said an armed clash broke out "following an aggression by Nusra Front members."

Syrian state news agency SANA described a "horrible massacre" that killed 30 people, including five members of the same family in Qalb Lawzeh. It added that Nusra Front fighters torched several homes.

The Druze, a 10th century offshoot of Shia Islam, made up about 5 percent of Syria's prewar population of 23 million people. Lebanon and Israel also have large Druze communities.

The head of the Druze community in Lebanon, Sheikh Naim Hassan, condemned the killings and said efforts are being made to "contain this regrettable and painful incident."

Asaad Kanjo, an activist from Idlib province who is currently in Turkey, said via Skype that very few details are emerging, adding that the Nusra Front is preventing people from passing a checkpoint about 2 miles from the village.

Activists estimate that several hundred Druze have been forced to convert to Sunni Islam since the Nusra Front seized the area last year.

Wire services

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