BEIRUT: Islamic State (IS) jihadists were closing in on Syria’s third largest Kurdish town on Sunday after their capture of surrounding villages sent tens of thousands of refugees streaming into Turkey, a monitoring group said.
As many as 70,000 Syrian Kurds have poured into Turkey since Friday fleeing an offensive by IS jihadists in northeastern Syria, the United Nation’s refugee agency said Sunday.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees “is stepping up its response to help Turkey come to the aid of an estimated 70,000 Syrians who crossed into Turkey in the last 24 hours,” the agency said in a statement on Sunday.
IS fighters were within just 10 kilometers (six miles) of the strategic border town known as Ain al-Arab in Arabic and Kobane in Kurdish, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Kurdish militia who have been battling to defend the town have lost 27 fighters since the jihadists launched their offensive last Tuesday, the Observatory said.
IS has lost at least 37 of their fighters, said the Britain-based monitoring group, which relies on a network of doctors and activists for its reports.
“The great majority of those killed on the jihadist side have been foreigners, among them Chechens and Gulf Arabs,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told Agence France-Presse.
Civilians continued to stream across the nearby border into Turkey on Sunday, the Observatory said.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said on Saturday that more than 60,000 Syrian Kurds had crossed since the border was opened the previous day.
The jihadists have captured more than 60 villages around Kobane over the past five days, triggering an exodus of terrified civilians.
Kurdish militia have put up a dogged fight for the enclave— one of three mainly Kurdish areas of the north where Kurdish leaders had declared self-rule—and there were fears of reprisals by IS.
Capture of the town would give the jihadists unbroken control of a big swathe of the border with Turkey.