Tuesday, September 23rd14.4°C
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3 dead in workplace shooting

Police say three people have been killed in a shooting at a UPS facility in Birmingham, Alabama.

Birmingham police Lt. Sean Edwards tells The Associated Press that the gunman was killed along with two other people in the Tuesday morning gunfire.

Edwards says the gunman was an employee of the company, but it's unclear whether the shooter was a current or former employee.

Atlanta-based UPS said in a brief statement that the shooting happened around 9:40 a.m. CDT. The company added that it is fully co-operating with the investigation.

Few other details were immediately available.

The Canadian Press




Israeli forces kill 2 Hamas men

Israeli special forces stormed a West Bank hideout early on Tuesday and killed two Palestinians suspected in the June abduction and slaying of three Israeli teenagers, a gruesome attack that had triggered a chain of events that led to the war in Gaza this summer.

The deaths of the two suspects, identified by the Israeli military as well-known Hamas militants, ended one of the largest manhunts conducted by the Israeli security forces.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the development.

"This episode sends a clear and unambiguous message that Israel will do whatever it needs to to deal with threats and challenges wherever they may occur," he said.

Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship, were abducted on June 12 while hitchhiking home in the West Bank and killed soon afterward.

The teens' abduction and slaying prompted a large Israeli crackdown on the Islamic militant Hamas group and set off a chain of events that led to a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

In an operation codenamed "Brother's Keeper," Israel dispatched thousands of troops across the West Bank in search of the youths, closed roads in the Hebron area and arrested hundreds of Hamas operatives throughout the territory.

The search ended July 1, when the bodies were found under a pile of rocks in a field north of the West Bank city of Hebron. Officials later said it was believed the three had been killed shortly after the abduction.

Israeli forces had been pursuing the suspects, Amer Abu Aisheh and Marwan Qawasmeh, since the abductions, said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman.

Lerner told reporters that there was a recent breakthrough in the search that led the Yamam, a special police counter- terrorism unit, to the hideout in an area of Hebron about a week ago.

Early on Tuesday, the Israeli special forces entered the ground floor of the two-story building and killed two Hamas operatives after coming under fire, Lerner said.

Lerner noted the two men had been identified as the suspects early in the search, their Hamas connections were well known, and Hamas has repeatedly tried to abduct Israeli civilians and soldiers. Another three members of one the Qawasmeh family were arrested, he said.

"We were determined in bringing the ruthless murderers of Gilad, Eyal and Naftali to justice," Lerner said. "Today's successful mission brings the long-term search to an end, and the perpetrators of the crime no longer pose a threat to Israeli civilians," he said.

Qawasmeh's mother Hanan described her son as "a hero" and said it was far better that he had been killed in battle rather than falling into the hands of Israeli forces.

"Thank God that he and the other man were martyred," she said.

In Qatar, Hussam Badran, a spokesman for top Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, praised the two militants on his Twitter account. "The martyrdom of Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisheh came after a long life full of jihad sacrifice and giving. This is the path of resistance, which we all are moving in," he said.

Hamas denied involvement for weeks after the teens were abducted. However, during the Israel-Hamas war, an exiled Hamas leader responsible for West Bank operations acknowledged his group had been responsible for the abduction and killing of the teenagers.

In the days leading up to the start of the Gaza war in early July, a Palestinian youth was also abducted and killed in east Jerusalem by Israeli extremists in an apparent revenge attack over the teens' slaying.

The Canadian Press


Airstrikes in Syria illegal?

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday the U.S.-led coalition's airstrikes in Syria are illegal because they were not approved or co-ordinated with Syria's government.

Meeting Tuesday with several news editors on the first day of the United Nations General Assembly gathering of world leaders, Rouhani stressed that Iran condemns the Islamic State group for trampling on human rights and torturing and killing civilians. He said Iran stands ready to help fight terrorism.

Rouhani said the U.S. policy is confused because it simultaneously opposes the militants while also trying to undermine the government of Syria's President Bashar Assad.

"This is clearly nebulous and ambiguous at best," he said. "This is a very confusing behaviour and policy."

Nighttime raids began Monday on Islamic State militants in Syria, as U.S.-Arab airstrikes hit the group's military strongholds in both Syria and Iraq. U.S. officials said Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates participated.

Syria's Foreign Ministry said the U.S. informed Syria's envoy to the U.N. that strikes would be launched in Syria.

The U.S. and Iran have been unable to work together to combat the Islamic State group, complicating efforts against militants that both Washington and Tehran see as a threat.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, decisively ruled out an alliance. He said Iran had rejected an invitation by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss co-operation.

The United States, meanwhile, feared that bringing Iran into the fight could bolster its influence in Iraq. The U.S. also does not want to alienate key Sunni countries in its coalition.

Washington and Tehran were nonetheless in back-room contacts about co-operation for weeks. Some moderate voices in Iran's diplomatic circles supported an alliance with the U.S. against the militants.

The Canadian Press


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Blast at fireworks factory kills 12

An explosion at a fireworks factory in southern China killed 12 people and injured 33 others, the local government said Tuesday.

Two people were also missing following Monday's blast, which shook Nanyang Export Fireworks Factory, the city of Liling in Hunan province said. It revised the injured toll down from 38 because it said five people who had been transferred between hospitals were counted twice.

It did not say what caused the explosion but said it was a work safety incident. The factory is properly licensed, it said.

Workplace accidents are common in China because of lax enforcement of safety regulations, although safety standards are improving.

China is the world's largest producer of fireworks, which are widely used to celebrate the lunar new year. The festival falls in February in 2015.

The Canadian Press


Syrian airstrikes expanded

WASHINGTON - The U.S. and five Arab countries launched airstrikes Monday night on Islamic State group targets in Syria, expanding a military campaign into a country whose three-year civil war has given the brutal militant group a safe haven.

Using a mix of manned aircraft — fighter jets and bombers — plus Tomahawk cruise missiles, the strikes were part of the expanded military campaign that President Barack Obama authorized nearly two weeks ago in order to disrupt and destroy the Islamic State militants, who have slaughtered thousands of people, beheaded Westerners — including two American journalists — and captured large swaths of Syria and northern and western Iraq.

U.S. officials said the airstrikes began around 8:30 p.m. EDT (0030 GMT), and were conducted by the U.S., Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. The first wave of strikes finished about 90 minutes later, but the operation was expected to continue for several more hours, according to one U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly by name about an ongoing mission.

Because the military operation was ongoing, no details could be provided yet, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon's press secretary. He said the military made the decision to strike early Monday. A White House official said Obama was being updated.

The strikes were carried out by manned Air Force and Navy aircraft, and the Tomahawk missiles were launched from U.S. ships in the northern Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. The aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush is in the Gulf.

Some of the airstrikes were against Islamic State group headquarters in Raqqa in eastern Syria. Military officials have said the U.S. would target militants' command and control centres, re-supply facilities, training camps and other key logistical sites.

"We will be prepared to strike ISIL targets in Syria that degrade ISIL's capabilities," Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators last week, using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State group. "This won't look like a shock-and-awe campaign, because that's simply not how ISIL is organized, but it will be a persistent and sustainable campaign.

Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the plan "includes targeted actions against ISIL safe havens in Syria, including its command and control logistics capabilities and infrastructure." He said he and Dempsey approved the plan.

The U.S. has also been increasing its surveillance flights over Syria, getting better intelligence on potential targets and militant movements. None of Monday's airstrikes were from drones.

Military leaders have said about two-thirds of the estimated 31,000 Islamic State militants were in Syria.

Some officials have expressed concern that going after Islamic State militants in Syria could inadvertently help Syrian President Bashar Assad, since the militants are fighting in part to overthrow Assad.

In a speech Sept. 10, Obama vowed to go after the Islamic State militants wherever they may be. And his military and defence leaders told Congress last week that airstrikes within Syria are meant to disrupt the group's momentum and provide time for the U.S. and allies to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels.

The U.S. military has been launching targeted airstrikes in Iraq since August, focusing specifically on attacks to protect U.S. interests and personnel, assist Iraqi refugees and secure critical infrastructure. Last week, as part of the newly expanded campaign, the U.S. began going after militant targets across Iraq, including enemy fighters, outposts, equipment and weapons.

To date U.S. fighter aircraft, bombers and drones have launched about 190 airstrikes within Iraq.

Urged on by the White House and U.S. defence and military officials, Congress passed legislation late last week authorizing the military to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels. Obama signed the bill into law Friday, providing $500 million for the U.S. to train about 5,000 rebels over the next year.

U.S. leaders have also been crisscrossing the globe trying to build a broad international coalition of nations, including Arab countries, to go after the Islamic State group and help train and equip the Iraqi security forces and the Syrian rebels.

The militant group, meanwhile, has threatened retribution. Its spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, said in a 42-minute audio statement released Sunday that the fighters were ready to battle the U.S.-led military coalition and called for attacks at home and abroad.

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Associated Press Writers, Julie Pace, Matthew Lee and Josh Lederman contributed to this report.

The Canadian Press


Global climate protest

A contingent of Canadians — some bearing anti-oilsands placards — were among the lively crowd of thousands of demonstrators who marched through New York City on Sunday to demand action on climate change.

The protest — dubbed the People's Climate March — was one of a series of events large and small held around the world, including several marches in Canada.

The colourful march stretched along blocks of downtown Manhattan, and comes days before the United Nations Climate Summit there on Tuesday.

Among them were throngs of Canucks who made their way down to the Big Apple — with scores from one Toronto environmental group alone hopping on busses for a 12-hour trek.

Also there was Sierra Club Canada program director John Bennett, who said it was long past time for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to take concrete steps to reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions.

"Even though he's in control in Canada he's never respected the demand for action on climate change that the population has made. Canadians overwhelmingly want action on climate change and he has not delivered on that."

"We want to bring a message to the United Nations and to Mr. Harper that we want to see some real action to reduce our emissions and that means stop betting on fossil fuels and doing things to reduce our emissions, and to help the rest of the world do the same," Bennett said.

Harper will not be among the 120 world leaders attending the UN summit, a meeting aimed at galvanizing political will for a new global climate treaty by the end of 2015.

His office says Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq will represent Canada at the summit, and that Harper will discuss climate issues at a related dinner with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was among the dignitaries and celebrities walking in the march. Harper will be in New York this week to address the UN General Assembly.

Protest group Toronto 350 said it bussed about 275 people down for the march, while Quebec environmental group Equiterre also organized trips.

Graduate student Aaron Saad, part of the Toronto group, said Canadian marchers made the trip because they're sick and tired of the country's environmental record.

"I think so many Canadians are here because we're so fed up with the way things are going in Canada. We are the source of the tar sands, which has just been such a destructive project for the climate and for local environment and indigenous people," he said.

"We're just so fed up with that and we need some real leadership on really addressing climate change."

There were some rallies held in a number of Canadian cities on Sunday including Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

The Canadian Press


Sarkozy's political comeback

Nicolas Sarkozy says he's learned a few things about himself in the two-and-a-half years since his bitter defeat in France's 2012 presidential elections.

Sarkozy used a 45-minute prime-time TV interview Sunday evening to explain why he's going back on a pledge he made to quit political life for good.

Sarkozy says that as president between 2007 and 2012, "I sometimes thought that I could succeed alone," and that he carelessly turned people against him with polarizing speech.

Sarkozy says he decided to seek the leadership of his conservative UMP party in elections next month because "I don't want my country to be condemned to the perspective of total isolation" that he predicts will happen if France's far-right National Front party continues its rise.

When he left the Elysee Palace in 2012, Sarkozy said he was leaving politics and would find a different way to serve his country.

His widely expected move to join the race to lead the UMP party is seen as a first step toward running for president in 2017.

Sarkozy said he was moved to return to politics by the "hopelessness, anger and lack of future" that he senses among the French.

"We are one of the only countries with such a sense of hopelessness," Sarkozy said. "I want to participate in lifting up my country."

Sarkozy's successor, Socialist Francois Hollande, has become the most unpopular French leader of modern times over his handling of the economy, and Sarkozy's UMP party, which he led before running for president the first time, is a nest of divisions in a leadership vacuum.

The Canadian Press


Thousands march in Moscow

Tens of thousands of people marched through central Moscow on Sunday to demonstrate against the fighting in Ukraine and Russia's alleged complicity in the conflict.

An Associated Press reporter estimated the crowd at about 20,000, although the city police department put the number at about 5,000.

The demonstrators chanted slogans including "No to war" and "The junta is in the Kremlin, not Kyiv." The latter refers to Russia's contention that the ousting of Ukraine's former Russia-friendly president was a coup.

The fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine that erupted after the ouster has killed more than 3,000 people. Ukraine and Western countries claim Russia is supplying troops and equipment to the rebels, which Moscow denies.

"Our country is acting as an aggressor, like Germany in the war," said demonstrator Konstantin Alexeyev, 35.

The Ukraine conflict has boosted nationalist sentiment among Russians, many of who regard eastern Ukraine as rightfully a part of Russia, and coverage of the crisis on state-controlled television channels has skewed strongly against the Ukrainian authorities.

"I am concerned about the rhetoric on our TV channels, which disseminate anti-Ukrainian sentiment," said 50-year-old demonstrator Ludmila Shteigervalt. "Ukraine is a friendly country. We should just leave it alone."

At least one scuffle broke out between protesters and nationalists who unfurled a banner denouncing "The March of Traitors."

In Kyiv, a Ukrainian security official said attacks by Russia-backed rebel fighters are continuing despite a cease-fire called for by both sides more than two weeks ago.

Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's national security council, said two Ukrainian servicemen and about 40 rebels had died in clashes over the past day. He said the fighters fired on Ukrainian positions at 22 locations and that they fired artillery at the airport in Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city.

The city council of Mariupol, a strategically vital city on the coast of the Sea of Azov, said sporadic shelling of points on its outskirts took place during the night and into Sunday daytime. There were no immediate reports of injuries there.

The Canadian Press


Afghanistan's new president

Ending months of vote-related tension, Afghanistan's election commission named a new president Sunday only hours after the leading candidates signed a power-sharing deal that names one of them as the country's new chief executive.

The commission named Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as the winner and next president and noted that his one-time rival, Abdullah Abdullah, will fill the newly created position of chief executive, a post akin to prime minister. But it pointedly did not release final vote totals amid concerns that doing so could inflame tensions.

The deal brings to a close an election season that began in April, when millions of Afghans first went to the polls despite threats from Taliban militants, and ended when the two leading candidates signed a national unity government agreement and embraced in a hug. In between, the Abdullah camp alleged that its cause was cheated by massive vote fraud.

A nation long tired of election bluffs and threats seemed to accept the electoral deal with a shrug. There were no mass celebrations in the streets of Kabul, and Afghan journalists reacted angrily when the election commission declined to release final results, abruptly ending a brief news conference without taking questions.

The United States applauded the deal and the White House said that "respect for the democratic process" is the only viable path forward for Afghanistan. But to many here, the next Afghan government appeared to be more a product of negotiation than vote tallies, especially given the fact a final count wasn't even released.

"I don't think anyone will vote again," said Masie Hajizada, a 26-year-old businessman. "They will have to do a lot of campaigning to get us to vote."

U.S. officials said they believed Ghani Ahmadzai would sign a security agreement soon after taking his oath of office that would allow some 10,000 American forces to remain in Afghanistan next year. After 13 years of war following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, all combat troops are to withdraw by the end of 2014.

Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah signed the national unity government deal as President Hamid Karzai — in power since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban — looked on. It took weeks of negotiations to form a power-sharing arrangement after accusations of fraud in the June runoff vote.

"I am very happy today that both of my brothers, Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, in an Afghan agreement for the benefit of this country, for the progress and development of this country, that they agreed on the structure affirming the new government of Afghanistan," Karzai said after the signing.

The Canadian Press


Bus overturns, 49 injured

A bus carrying dozens of people crashed and overturned in Delaware, leaving one woman dead and several other people injured, authorities said.

Officials said the accident did not involve other vehicles and happened around 4:20 p.m. Sunday in the community of Bear in the northern part of the state.

Delaware State Police spokesman Sgt. Paul Shavack said there were 50 passengers on the bus when it overturned onto its left side. Shavack said one woman was killed at the scene, and that troopers found her body under the bus.

The 49 others were taken to area hospitals for injuries varying in severity. Of those, three to five people were in critical condition, Shavack said.

Investigators are interviewing the bus driver, who was not critically injured, authorities said.

State police told The News Journal newspaper of Wilmington that there were no apparent witnesses outside the bus to the crash.

But Elvis D'cruz, 19, told The Associated Press that he was driving in the area with a friend when he came upon the overturned bus. He said he and his friend pulled over and were there before first responders arrived.

"Everyone was in pain and crying out for help," said D'cruz, a student at Penn State Brandywine in Pennsylvania.

He said that the group of passengers included largely adults, many of them speaking different languages including Hindi, Mandarin, Spanish and Portuguese.

"There was not one person without blood on them," he said, adding that he and his friend handed out items from a first aid kit.

D'cruz said the bus had overturned on an off-ramp from Delaware's Route 1 that is known for being steep.

New Castle County Department of Public Safety spokesman Sgt. Michael McColley said the crash occurred at Red Lion Road at Route 1 in Bear. It was not immediately clear where the bus was headed or where it began its journey. Shavack said the bus belonged to Am USA Express Incorporated, a bus company based in New York City.

Authorities had no immediate information on the cause of the crash.

Photographs taken at the scene showed the bus lying on the driver's side on a grassy shoulder. The photographs showed at least two people with neck braces lying in the grass while a group of others were sitting nearby.

The National Transportation Safety Board was expected to arrive later Sunday night to open an investigation, police told The News Journal.

The Canadian Press


Sierra Leone's food shortages

Frustrated residents complained of food shortages in some neighbourhoods of Sierra Leone's capital on Sunday as the country reached the third and final day of a sweeping, unprecedented lockdown designed to combat the deadly Ebola disease, volunteers said.

While most residents welcomed teams of health care workers and volunteers bearing information about the disease, rumours persisted in pockets of the city that poisoned soap was being distributed, suggesting that public education campaigns had not been entirely successful.

The streets of the capital, Freetown, were again mostly deserted on Sunday in compliance with a government order for the country's 6 million residents to stay in their homes.

Spread by contact with bodily fluids, Ebola has killed more than 560 people in Sierra Leone and more than 2,600 across West Africa in the biggest outbreak ever recorded, according to the World Health Organization. The disease, which has also touched Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal, is believed to have sickened more than 5,500 people.

Sierra Leone's government was hoping the lockdown — the most aggressive containment effort yet attempted — would turn the tide against the disease. There were rumours in Freetown that officials would opt to extend the lockdown, though government spokesman Abdulai Bayraytay said Sunday afternoon that no official decision had been reached.

Health care workers took advantage of the lockdown to bury 71 dead bodies by Sunday morning, Health Ministry official Dr. Sarian Kamara said on a radio program. The bodies of dead Ebola victims are highly contagious, making safe burials essential to stopping the spread of the disease.

Sundays are usually quiet for residents in Sierra Leone, who go to church or stay at home with many businesses and restaurants closed.

In the city centre, despite police efforts to encourage people to stay inside their homes, most families sat on their verandas chatting as radios blared through the streets. People have been urged to stay tuned to their radios and televisions for public information on the lockdown.

The National Power Authority has also provided uninterrupted electricity during the lockdown, so people haven't had to rely on generators.

The World Food Program provided food packages including rice, beans and a form of porridge throughout the lockdown, though its staffers were not going door to door and were instead focused on serving houses placed under quarantine by medical teams, spokesman Alexis Masciarelli said Sunday.

The agency distributed two weeks' worth of rations to 20,000 households in slum communities just prior to the lockdown, he said.

Some residents of Bonga Town and other similar communities said the provisions they received were insufficient, Turay said.

The Canadian Press


White House intruder Ex-Army

The man accused of getting inside the White House after scaling a fence is a veteran who was awarded a medal for his service in Iraq and retired due to disability, the Army said Sunday.

Authorities have identified the intruder from Friday night's shocking incident as Omar J. Gonzalez, 42, of Copperas Cove, Texas, and the Army said he had served from 1997 to 2003, when he was discharged, and then again from 2005 to December 2012, when he retired.

The military does not provide details about a soldier's disability due to privacy considerations.

Gonzalez was expected to appear in federal court Monday to face charges of unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon — a knife, in this case.

The Secret Service tightened security outside the White House after the embarrassing breach in which the intruder carrying a knife climbed the fence, ran across the lawn and entered the building before agents stopped him.

The first family was away from the White House at the time.

Increased surveillance and more officer patrols are among the measures that Secret Service Director Julia Pierson ordered. She also began an investigation into what went wrong.

A member of the House Homeland Security Committee said Sunday that it was astonishing, at a time of concerns about terrorist attacks, that "someone could actually get into the White House without being stopped."

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said the intrusion was "absolutely inexcusable" and he expected congressional hearings into the incident at one of the world's most heavily secured buildings.

"This demands a full investigation, an investigation as to what happened, why it happened and what's being done to make sure it never happens again," he told "Fox News Sunday."

Officials first said the fact that the man appeared to be unarmed may have been a factor in why agents at the scene didn't shoot or have their dogs pursue him before he made it inside.

But a criminal complaint issued late Friday revealed Gonzalez had a small folding knife with a 3 1/2-inch serrated blade with him at the time of his arrest.

Obama and his daughters had just left the White House by helicopter Friday evening when the intruder hopped the fence.

The intruder ran toward the presidential residence unimpeded, ignoring orders from officers to stop, until being tackled just inside the doors of the North Portico — the grand, columned entrance overlooking Pennsylvania Ave.

The Canadian Press


Wildfire destroys 10 homes

Nearly three-dozen structures have been destroyed in a massive Northern California wildfire that continues to spread more than a week after it started, officials said Sunday.

According to preliminary figures, 10 residences and 22 outbuildings were lost in the King Fire as the structures were discovered in the White Meadows area of Pollock Pines, said Capt. Tom Piranio, a state fire spokesman.

Assessment teams were headed back into the rugged, steep terrain to survey more damage, he said.

"It has been very challenging to get access to those burn areas because there's a lot of inaccessible terrain," Piranio said. "We had to make sure it was safe enough to enter."

Smoky conditions from the fire also forced a last-minute cancellation of the popular Ironman Triathlon event in nearby Lake Tahoe Sunday morning. About 3,000 athletes from around the world were expected to participate, but couldn't due to poor air quality as the fire spread to the Tahoe National Forest northwest of Lake Tahoe over the weekend.

The fast-moving blaze located about 60 miles (100 kilometres) east of Sacramento that started Sept. 13 grew to more than 128 square miles (332 square kilometres) Saturday despite periods of rain overnight. A man charged with starting the fire, Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, pleaded not guilty to arson Friday and remains in the El Dorado County jail on $10 million bail.

More than 21,000 structures remain threatened as the blaze remains at 10 per cent contained. More than 5,000 firefighters — from as far as Florida and Alaska — are helping California crews battle the blaze that has not only consumed grass and brush, but swaths of extremely dry tall timber.

The Canadian Press


Turkey takes 100,000 refugees

The number of refugees seeking shelter in Turkey from the Islamic State group's advance across northeastern Syria has hit 100,000, Turkey said Sunday as clashes broke out on the border between Turkish security guards and Kurds.

The head of Turkey's AFAD disaster management agency, Fuat Oktay, said the figure relates to Syrians escaping the area near the Syrian border town Kobani, where fighting has raged between IS and Kurdish fighters since Thursday.

The U.N. refugee agency earlier Sunday said some 70,000 Syrians have crossed into Turkey in the past 24 hours, and that it was preparing for the arrival of hundreds of thousands more.

The Syrian refugees — most of them ethnic Kurds — have been desperate to reach Turkey and escape the advance of religious extremists barrelling across Syria.

On Sunday, heavy clashes broke out between the Islamic State group and Kurdish fighters only a few miles from Kobani, which is also known as Ayn Arab.

The Islamic State group was bombarding villagers with tanks, artillery and multiple rocket launchers, said Nasser Haj Mansour, an official at the defence office in Syria's Kurdish.

"They are even targeting civilians who are fleeing," Haj Mansour told The Associated Press by telephone.

As refugees flooded in, Turkey closed the border crossing in Kucuk Kendirciler, a small village about 2 kilometres (roughly a mile) from Kobani, to Turkish Kurds, with local police saying they were seeking to prevent Kurdish fighters from entering Syria.

Clashes broke out as Kurds trying to approach the crossing from inside Turkey scuffled with security forces, which attacked crowds with tear gas, paint pellets, and water. The state-run Anadolu Agency reported Kurdish protesters had hurled stones at the security forces.

The pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions' Party said two people were seriously injured in the clashes, including one Kurdish legislator who was hospitalized. The party said the Kurds were protesting the Islamic State group's attacks as well as the border closure.

The sound of gunfire could be heard from the Syrian side of the frontier where refugees were piling up after authorities shut the crossing. It was not immediately clear whether they were unable to cross or simply waiting to see what would happen.

Mohammed Osman Hamme, a middle-aged Syrian Kurdish refugee who managed to make his way across, told The Associated Press he fled with his wife and small children from the village of Dariya in the Raqqa province 10 days ago after hearing that the Islamic State group was headed their way.

The family walked for three days, passing the town of Tell Abiad, near the Turkish border, where they saw four severed heads hanging in the streets, he said.

During the interview a tear gas gun went off, causing Hamme's terrified daughter to start screaming. Later Turkish police used armoured cars to push people back from the village.

The situation inside Syria is dire.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Islamic State group has taken control of 64 villages in northeastern Syria since the fighting began there early Wednesday. It says that the fate of 800 Kurds from these villages is unknown, adding that the Islamic State group executed 11 civilians, including two boys.

The Aleppo Media Center, another activist group, said that Sunday's battles were concentrating on the southern and eastern suburbs of Kobani. Mansour said the battles are taking place about 8 miles (13 kilometres) from the town.

UNHCR spokeswoman, Selin Unal, said most of those coming across the border are Kurdish women, children and elderly.

She urged the international community to step up its aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey, already numbering some 1.5 million.

"Turkey is assisting with all needs but it's huge numbers," she said.

 

The Canadian Press




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