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Syrian Kurds fleeing Islamic State militants cross to safety in Turkey

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BEIRUT — Several thousand Syrians, most of them Kurds, crossed into Turkey on Friday, fleeing militants from the Islamic State group, a Turkish official said.

The refugees are escaping an ongoing offensive by the militants that aims to overrun a Kurdish-controlled area near the Turkish border known as Kobani. Backed by tanks and artillery, the Islamic State fighters already have captured more than 20 villages in the area over the past 48 hours alone, sending civilians streaming toward the frontier.

"Our house was destroyed. We have no family no property left. We have nothing now. Everything is gone," said Ibrahim Halil, a Syrian Kurd who had just arrived in the Turkish village of Dikmetas in Sanliurfa province.

Halil was among some 3,000 people who had entered Turkey on Friday. Many of those who crossed the border had been waiting at the frontier for 24 hours after Turkey, which is already home to nearly 850,000 registered Syrian refugees, refused to let them in on Thursday.

But on Friday, Turkey changed tack and decided to permit them to enter the country after reports emerged that militants were closing in on their communities, said Izzettin Kucuk, the governor of Turkey's Sanliurfa province.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Ankara's priority is to help those in need on the Syrian side of the border, but "if that's not possible then of course they will be given help (inside Turkey)."

Earlier, a group of Kurds from Turkey staged a protest at the border, demanding that Kurds fleeing Kobani be allowed in. The security forces fired tear gas to disperse the group.

The battle over Kobani is part of a long-running fight between the Islamic State group and Syria's Kurds that has raged across several areas of northern Syria where large Kurdish populations reside. The clashes are but one aspect of Syria's broader civil war — a multilayered conflict that the U.N. says has killed more than 190,000.

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