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Syrian refugees pour into Turkey by the thousands

Bashar al-Assad.

ANKARA — About 8,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria have crossed into Turkey in the last 24 hours, a Turkish foreign ministry official said today, following a rebel offensive along the border.

Rebels, who have driven President Bashar al-Assad’s troops from much of northern Syria and taken several crossing points to Turkey, overran another frontier town late on Thursday, a rebel commander and opposition sources said.

The fighting coincided with talks in Qatar aimed at creating a more representative and credible Syrian opposition body.

Ten people were killed in clashes as rebels took Ras al-Ain, an Arab and Kurd town in the northeastern oil-producing province of Hasaka, 600 kilometres from Damascus, the sources said.

“The crossing is important because it opens another line to Turkey, where we can send the wounded and get supplies,” said Khaled al-Walid, a commander in the Raqqa Rebel Division.

The report could not be independently confirmed.

In the last three months, the mainly Sunni Muslim Arab rebels have captured outposts on the 910 kilometre border, steadily moving toward the northeast, home to many of Syria’s one million Kurds. The encroachments have enraged several Kurdish groups which have tried to stay out of the violence.

The Kurdish Council, a coalition of Kurdish parties opposed to Assad, called on the Free Syrian Army to leave Ain al-Arab, saying the clashes, as well as fear of Syrian army bombardment, had prompted most of the town’s 50,000 inhabitants to flee.

“While the Kurdish Council affirms it is part of the revolution to bring down this totalitarian regime, the province of Hasaka must remain a safe area for thousands of refugees who had fled to it from other regions,” the statement said.

“Military elements have to pull out so their presence would not serve as an excuse to shell the town and destroy it.” (Reuters)

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