Kurds Flee as Islamic State Captures Syrian Border Villages

Islamic State fighters backed by tanks and artillery have captured 21 Kurdish villages in Syria in the past 24 hours, triggering an exodus by residents, the head of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The villages, around the town of Ayn al-Arab near the Turkish border, were seized following fierce clashes that began on Sept. 16 between the militant group and the Kurdish force known as the People’s Protection Units, Rami Abdurrahman said by phone.

Should Ayn al-Arab and additional Kurdish villages fall, Islamic State would be in control of a belt of territory along the border with Turkey, Abdurrahman said. He said civilians were fleeing because they fear Islamic State will commit massacres if the town falls.

Kurdish militias and Islamic State militants have engaged in fighting in parts of northern Syria for about a year. The group kidnapped about 145 Kurdish elementary school students in May as they returned home from sitting exams in Aleppo. Some parents have expressed concern that the group would recruit children to carry out suicide attacks after indoctrinating them.

In Turkey, Murat Karayilan, a senior commander of the Kurdish PKK militant group, called on Kurds to join the ranks of an allied outfit in Syria to repel Islamic State, Firat news agency said.

Karayilan warned of a possible repeat of the massacres of ethnic Yezidis in August. The news agency said seven Kurdish fighters have been killed in the clashes.

The conflict in Syria began in March 2011 with peaceful protests against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It has evolved into a civil war in which extremists such as Islamic State have become increasingly powerful, winning recruits and territory in Syria and Iraq. More than 190,000 people have died in the conflict.

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