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Sep 20, 9:11 AM EDT

Kurds head to Syria from Turkey to fight militants


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BEIRUT (AP) -- Hundreds of Kurdish fighters have crossed from Turkey into neighboring Syria to defend a Kurdish area under attack by Islamic State militants, activists said Saturday. Fighting there led another prominent Kurdish official to appeal for international assistance in their battle against the extremists.

The movement of hundreds of Kurdish fighters into Syria reflected the ferocity of the fighting in the northern Kobani area, which borders Turkey. Militants of the extremist Islamic State group have been barreling through the area over the past three days, seizing villages and forcing tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds to flee.

"Kobani is facing the fiercest and most barbaric attack in its history," said official Mohammed Saleh Muslim, head of Syria's powerful Kurdish Democratic Union. The groups' members dominate the Syrian Kurdish group known as the YPK, which is fighting the Islamic State militants.

"Kobani calls on all those who defend humane and democratic values ... to stand by Kobani and support it immediately. The coming hours are decisive," he said in a message sent to reporters.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Kurdish official Nawaf Khalil said that the fighters were streaming into the Kobani. The Observatory, which obtains its information from a network of activists on the ground, estimated their numbers in the hundreds.

Syrian Kurdish fighters had been successfully fighting off the militants for the past two years. They even clashed with the Islamic State group's fighters in northern Iraq, carving a safe passage for thousands of embattled Iraqis of the Yazidi minority, whom the militant group sees as apostates.

But the tide changed in September. Islamic State group fighters, using weapons and armor seized from Iraqi soldiers who fled the militants' advance in June, are now sweeping through the Kobani area.

As the fighting continued, Khalil said Kurdish fighters had evacuated several other villages preemptively to ensure the safety of residents. At least 45,000 Syrian Kurds had crossed into Turkey since Friday, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said.

"Some of our brothers are being placed with their relatives, some are being taken to local schools and state facilities, others are being hosted in tents," Kurtulmus said.

On Friday, the president of Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdish region, Masoud Barzani, warned that the Islamic State group's attacks on the Kobani area in northern Syria "threaten the whole entirety of the Kurdish nation and it has targeted the honor, dignity and existence of our people."

Ethnic Kurds dominate a mountainous region that straddles Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

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 numbers of Kurds live. 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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Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed reporting.

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