Intense confrontations between Kurdish fighters and jihadists from the Islamic State group have prompted thousand of Syrians to flee, crossing the border into Turkey. The refugees illegally streamed across a border fence Sunday, and the Turkish government reversed its earlier stance, officially accepting the Syrians into its territory, Agence France-Presse reported.
Local officials in the Turkish border town of Akcakale told the news agency they had received permission from Ankara to allow the refugees to cross into the country after blocking Syrians from entering Turkey for several days. The decision was made as Syrian-Kurdish fighters advanced on the strategic Islamic State-held town of Tal Abyad.
Thousands of Syrians have fled the area in the past few days but had been prevented from crossing into Turkey, which maintained it would only allow refugees to enter in the event of a humanitarian tragedy. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus had said the situation was not at that level as recently as early Sunday.
"We are of the opinion that there isn't a humanitarian tragedy there," Kurtulmus said, in comments reported by the Associated Press. "Our priority is for them to remain within their border. We will continue to provide humanitarian aid to them.”
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But hours later, Turkey reversed its decision. Turkish troops stationed at the Akcakale border crossing were taken by surprise by the large number of refugees who gathered before breaking through a barrier, the AP said. Some of the refugees began pushing their way through an opening in the border fence as others passed infants over barbed wires into Turkish territory. Turkish troops were able to prevent refugees from going deeper into the country, with reinforcements gathering up Syrians who had crossed over illegally.
As many as 13,000 people already have crossed into Turkey as a result of fighting around the border, Reuters reported. At least 1,500 more people are still waiting to cross.