Hundreds of family members linked to Islamic State militants on Sunday escaped from a camp in northern Syria where fighting between Kurdish militias and Turkish-backed rebels is escalating, Kurdish officials and a war monitor reported.
About 785 foreigners affiliated to Islamic State have escaped from the Ain Issa camp, near the northern city of al-Raqqa, a Kurdish autonomous administration in north-eastern Syria said.
“The escape comes after shelling by (Turkish-allied) mercenaries hit the camp. This represents support for the resurgence of Daesh,” the Kurdish authority said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
Turkey started Operation Peace Spring on Wednesday, saying it is targeting Islamic State extremists and Kurdish militias.
Ankara considers the Kurdish militias to be linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is waging an insurgency within the country.
Thousands of Islamic State families have been held in the Ain Issa camp that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) set up in 2016.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, reported that around 800 foreign members of Islamic State families fled the camp to unknown whereabouts after Kurdish guards abandoned the site due to nearby fighting.
Residents in the area told dpa that some of the escapees were going to a nearby countryside while others were heading to al-Raqqa, a one-time stronghold of Islamic State.
Supported by air and artillery strikes, Turkey’s allied fighters were Sunday advancing against the Kurds in Ain Issa, according to the observatory.
The Turkish incursion has raised fears of reviving Islamic State in Syria where the radical group has experienced territorial losses in recent months.
Syrian Kurds played a major role in fighting Islamic State in the war-torn country.
Turkish-backed rebels said Sunday they had captured the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad from SDF forces, which had seized it from Islamic State in 2015.
A commander in the Turkish-allied National Army told dpa that its fighters were carrying out a mop-up operation in Tal Abyad after Kurdish fighters pulled out of it.
The observatory, meanwhile, reported that the Turkish forces and allied rebels have retaken almost complete control of Tal Abyad after fierce fighting against the SDF militia.
The Turkish campaign has triggered condemnations from Western allies amid fears of a severe humanitarian crisis.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded an “immediate termination of the military operation” in Syria during a telephone call Sunday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a government spokeswoman said.
Despite Turkey’s legitimate security interests, the operation is threatening to displace large parts of the local population, destabilize the region and revive the Islamic State extremist organisation, the spokeswoman added.
About 130,000 people have been displaced due to the escalating violence in north-eastern Syria, a UN agency said.
The water situation in the north-eastern city of al-Hassakeh and its surroundings is rapidly deteriorating, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) added.
Fighting was Sunday raging inside Ras al-Ain, another border town, hours after the SDF forces retook it from the Turkish-backed rebels following a counter-attack, the observatory said.
At least nine people, including five civilians, were killed in strikes by Turkish warplanes on an aid convoy heading to Ras al-Ain, the watchdog added.
The latest deaths bring the number of civilians killed since the start of the Turkish incursion into north-eastern Syria to at least 59.
Ras al-Ain sits on a major supply and transport route between the urban centres of Tal Abyad to its west and Qamishli to its east, controlled by SDF forces.