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Turkey Welcomes Syrian Refugees As Kurds Close In On ISIS

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

A significant battle is taking place against the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria. Fighters in Syria's Kurdish minority are trying to push the group out of a key town on the border with Turkey. It's an important link in the militants' supply lines. But the fighting has created a new flood of refugees. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports there's serious ongoing divisions among the forces fighting ISIS, and that includes U.S. allies involved in the effort.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Inside Syria, Kurdish fighters say they've seized a main road in part of the town of Tel Abyad, disrupting a key supply line for ISIS fighters. A Kurdish video posted online appears to show an airstrike by the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition targeting militants in northern Syria, though it wasn't clear if it was related to the battle for Tel Abyad.

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KENYON: The Syrian Kurds have proved to be a rare effective fighting force against ISIS, but ethnic and sectarian divisions continue to plague the opposition. Islamist Arab opposition groups, for example, accuse the Kurdish fighters of treating all Sunni Arab civilians as ISIS supporters and driving them from their homes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

KENYON: As the fighting rages on, moderate rebels backed by the U.S., appear to be struggling once again. An opposition announcement today from Istanbul says the Free Syrian Army will undergo another shakeup in its leadership, this one expected to take at least a month. There are also ongoing divisions in the international anti-ISIS coalition. Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, continues to stray from the U.S. and Western line on Syria. He recently accused the West of favoring what he called Kurdish terrorists, while its airstrikes are displacing numerous Arabs and Turkmen. They're heading for Turkey in large numbers. The battle for Tel Abyad forced thousands of Syrians to pile up at the Akcakale border crossing into Turkey. Local officials tried to hold them back, insisting they could find safe areas on their own side of the border. But, by yesterday, the pressure to escape grew overwhelming.

Online videos show desperate mothers thrusting babies through jagged cuts in the wire-border fence. Turkish border guards scramble to round people up and quickly order the crossing to be opened. Turkey's foreign minister estimates that some 13,000 refugees have crossed since early June, even before the Tel Abyad battle. At an event with European parliamentarians yesterday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey has spent more than $6 billion to deal with the crisis so far with only modest international help. Of 2 million refugees now in Turkey, he said a half-million are school-age children.

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MEVLUT CAVUSOGLU: And they need education, and we have been able to supply an education to almost 40 percent of them, but how about the remaining 60 percent? Who is going to give this education to these people?

KENYON: There was no answer from the Europeans. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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