Islamic State: Syrians flee to Turkey as US bombs fall and Kurds storm Isis strongholds

 

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The Independent Online

Ahmad Ke, a 17-year-old student, left his parents behind in the Syrian Isis stronghold of Raqqa two days ago, by chance on the night of the first of the US air strikes on the city.

Now in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, he said he still speaks to his parents constantly, terrified they will be victims of the bombings.

“They want to leave for the regime-held part of Aleppo,” he said, while taking a break from his new job at a popular Syrian canteen in Gaziantep. “But if Isis find out, they stop the buses and punish people for wanting to go there.”

Ahmad was one of an estimated 150,000 Syrians who have fled Isis to Turkey in the last week. That number was expected to increase after a third night of US-led air strikes which targeted oil refineries in Syria controlled by the militants.

Five civilians and 14 Isis fighters were killed in the east of the country, according to UK-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

 

Ahmad had to sneak out of Raqqa with his brother and former Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters. Taking a private minibus under the cover of darkness, he practiced his story to tell at Isis checkpoints.

“Driving through [the Isis-held city of] Al-Bab, the streets were empty and at the checkpoints you could see they were nervous. They were sure the Kurds would attack,” he said.

Last night, the battle for the city of Kobane, known as Ayn al-Arab in Arabic, was critical. Smoke, gunfire and shelling could be seen and heard from the border as fighting moved even closer towards Turkey.

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A Syrian house hit by US-led air strikes, in the village of Kfar Derian in western Aleppo province (Getty Images)

Kobane, a major Kurdish city on the Turkish border which shelters a population of at least 200,000, has been the scene of battles between Isis and fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG), bolstered by hundreds of Turkish Kurdish fighters and FSA battalions.

Despite the intensity of the battles, Ali Ziyadeh, a civilian from Kobane, said he was confident the forces fighting Isis were keeping them at bay.

According to those inside the Isis-controlled town of Jarabulus, just over a mile from the Turkish border, most of the militants have moved to the countryside, and to the front lines to join the offensive on Kobane.

“Four buses took Isis members and their families out of Jarabulus on Tuesday,” said Ahmad Al-Jader, a former FSA fighter from Jarabulus. In the east of the country, civilians in Deir Ezzor, close to Isis areas, are too scared to venture outside for fear of being bombed.

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A Syrian Kurdish woman wipes her eyes during a dust storm on a hill from where people watch the battle with Isis

The coalition air strikes overnight and in the early hours of yesterday hit three Isis-controlled oil refineries, a central base, a camp and a checkpoint.

“People don’t know what’s going on. A lot of them want to get rid of Isis, but not this way because they know what the US is here for and it’s not to get rid of the regime,” said Mr Al-Jader. “Our reporter on the ground said there was not even a bolt left in the infrastructure of the refinery. It was completely destroyed.”

The strikes have not been totally welcomed by the FSA. They insist any international intervention in Syria should also target the Assad regime, said Abu Mohammad, head of the political office for Aleppo-based opposition armed group, Jaysh al-Mujahideen.

“Our rebel fighters will not accept to continue to fight Isis just to lose most of our strength so the regime can come and finish them off. If the US does not target the regime, we will not fight Isis on the ground,” Mr Mohammad said yesterday.

The group was among the first to start fighting Isis at the beginning of this year, but have become desperate for weapons and ammunition. “We would have signed anything they [the US] want…  We’d even change our name if that makes a difference. We just need help to fight both Assad and Isis,” said Mr Mohammad.

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