Syrians defy Isis to cross border into Turkey

The refugees fled as Kurdish fighters closed in on their home town

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Thousands of desperate Syrians defied Isis and cut through a border fence to pour into Turkey on Sunday, fleeing intense fighting as Kurdish fighters closed in on their home town, held by the jihadist group.

The refugees abandoned their homes in Tal Abyad, carrying small children and bundles of possessions, but were at first prevented from crossing to safety – both by Turkish soldiers stationed at the border, and then by bearded Isis fighters who could be seen trying to dissuade them from leaving.

Eventually the Isis fighters apparently withdrew and Turkish troops were overwhelmed by the large number of people crowding the crossing. Thousands had been gathering for more than a day on the Syrian side before they broke through. People threw their belongings over the fence while others passed infants into Turkey over barbed wire before following through an opening, near the Turkish town of Akcakale.

Earlier, the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Numan Kurtulmus, claimed that those refugees were not fleeing fighting between Kurds and the Islamic State group, but rather were trying to escape to Turkey in case their villages were hit by US-led coalition bombings.

He said Turkey was providing humanitarian aid to them on the other side of the border while taking in anyone who was sick or injured. Hours afterwards, however, Turkey reversed its decision and opened the border to allow more refugees in.

Syrian Kurdish fighters were confident of driving Isis from Tal Abyad, a key strategic move which could cut off a supply line to the jihadists’ self-proclaimed “capital”, the Syrian city of Raqqa 50 miles to the south.

The Kurdish advance, coming under the cover of US-led coalition air strikes in the area against Isis, would also link their two fronts and put even more pressure on Raqqa.

Kurdish officials said that Isis fighters have fled from Suluk, a few miles south-west of Tal Abyad, and that Kurds now held the town. Kurdish official Idriss Naasan said: “It’s only a matter of time before this area is liberated.”