JUNE 16, 2015
Kurdish militias and rebel fighters on Tuesday took full control of the strategic Syrian town of Tal Abyad on Turkey’s border, striking a blow against the Islamic State and expanding their realm of control. Kurdish commanders and activists said the opposition forces had taken full control of the town on Tuesday after seizing most of it the night before after a withdrawal of Islamic State militants. A Kurdish commander, Haqi Kobane, told The Associated Press that opposition forces were clearing boobytraps and mines throughout the town, which the Islamic State had controlled for more than a year and had used to smuggle in fighters and supplies bound for its stronghold in the city of Raqqa. The coalition of Kurds and Arabs who seized the town celebrated their victory by tearing down the jihadists’ black flags and replacing them with their own, while expressing hope that they could use the border crossing with Turkey to supply their communities. But that appeared unlikely, with Turkish officials expressing dismay that a force dominated by a Kurdish militia from the Democratic Union Party, or P.Y.D., had taken the town. The group is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which has waged a 30year insurgency against Turkey. While particularly sensitive to the P.K.K., Turkey’s leaders have long seen any advance by Kurdish forces in Syria as a threat to their national security, and have characterized those fighters as no better than the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, an Arabic acronym. “Daesh attacks and kills those it captures. Kurdish militias seize certain regions and force people living there to migrate,” said Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, in comments to the state broadcaster TRT on Tuesday. “It doesn’t matter who comes — the regime, Daesh, the P.Y.D. — they are all persecuting civilians.” The advance of opposition forces toward the town last week, facilitated by heavy bombing of Islamic State targets by an Americanled military coalition, sent a new wave of refugees flooding toward Turkey, which opened its border gate on Sunday, letting several thousands of them cross. The United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday that fighting in the area had pushed more than 23,000 new refugees into Turkey since June 3, adding to the nearly two million Syrian refugees already there. The new refugee flow has led to accusations by Turkish officials and rebels elsewhere in Syria that Kurdish militias were forcibly displacing Arab civilians, although no clear evidence of ethnic cleansing has come to light. The United Nations said the refugees were fleeing fighting in the area, and that some of them had come from Iraq. It remained unclear how many Islamic State fighters had been killed in the battle, and the fact that the jihadists had apparently not used car bombs — their weapon of choice — to defend the town suggested that they had not put up much of a fight. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group based in Britain, said that at least 40 Islamic State fighters had been killed in coalition airstrikes on convoys as they fled. The Turkish military said it had detained five men accused of being members of the Islamic State at the border crossing on Monday, Turkish news media reported. Saleh Muslim, a Kurdish activist, said by telephone from Syria that opposition forces were now fighting Islamic State militants in villages farther south on the road to Raqqa, but that they were filling them with explosives before leaving, a tactic the group has used to devastating effect in both Syria and Iraq. Ceylan Yeginsu and Karam Shoumali contributed reporting from Istanbul, and Maher Samaan from Beirut, Lebanon.
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