Beirut: Kurdish militias battled al Qaeda-linked rebel groups in northeastern Syria on Tuesday in the latest round of heavy fighting that has helped fuel a mass exodus of civilians from the region into neighboring Iraq, activists said.
Clashes between Kurdish fighters and Islamic extremist rebel groups have sharply escalated in Syria`s northern provinces in recent months. The violence, which has left hundreds dead, holds the potential to explode into a full-blown side conflict within Syria`s broader civil war.
Tuesday`s fighting, which pitted Kurdish militiamen against rebels from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, was focused in three villages near the town of Ras al-Ayn in the predominantly Kurdish Hassakeh province, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. There was no immediate word on casualties.
Around 30,000 Syrians, the vast majority of them Kurds, have fled the region over a five-day stretch and crossed the border to the self-ruled Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
Another 4,000 made the trek across the frontier today, said Youssef Mahmoud, a spokesman for the UNHCR in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The new arrivals join some 1.9 million Syrians who already have found refuge abroad from the country`s relentless carnage.
With belongings loaded onto mules, thousands of Syrian refugees continued to flow into northern Iraq through the border town of Peshkabour today, some describing hometowns where food, water and electricity have become scarce amid the combat.
Among them was Ali Balash, a Kurd from Hassakeh province who walked some five kilometres to cross the border with his 18-member family.
"War is rattling our areas, we were so scared to stay," said Balash, a day laborer dressed in traditional Kurdish baggy pants and a scarf tucked into his belt.
A father of four children aged between 6 and 9, Balash`s face was pale as he reached the Iraqi territories. "We couldn`t go anywhere, we had no bread, no work and no stability," he added.
Riding a mule into the area, a 65-year-old woman who identified herself only by her nickname, Um Abdullah, for security reasons, said she had made the journey with her sisters and children but left her husband behind to guard their house in Hassakeh.
"We saw dead bodies in the streets and heard shootings and bombings all day," she said.