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Syria says 1,000 Iraqi families fled over border

Nearly 1,000 Iraqi families fleeing advances by the jihadist Islamic State group have taken refuge in the Syrian province of Hassakeh, the Syrian government said on Tuesday (Aug 12).

DAMASCUS: Nearly 1,000 Iraqi families fleeing advances by the jihadist Islamic State group have taken refuge in the Syrian province of Hassakeh, the Syrian government said on Tuesday (Aug 12).

The UN agency for refugees, UNHCR, meanwhile, put the number of Iraqis who had fled to Syria at 10,000 to 15,000 people. They arrived in Syria despite the raging civil war there that has ravaged the country since March 2011 and killed more than 170,000 people.

"Nearly 1,000 Iraqi families who fled the Sinjar mountains because of the terrorism of the Islamic State have been welcomed in schools in Al-Maliki in Hassakeh province," state news agency SANA quoted Syria's social affairs minister Kinda Shamat saying.

The news agency said 700 tents had also been set up in Ain al-Khadra in the same region of the northeastern province that borders Iraq, to cater for arriving refugees.

"We are committed to providing humanitarian aid to all the Syrian and Iraqi families affected by attacks by armed terrorist groups," Shamat added, saying the government has asked the World Food Programme to boost aid to the province.

Tens of thousands of members of the Yazidi minority in Iraq have fled the town of Sinjar in recent days after Islamic State fighters took the town. Many have crossed into Syria and then back into safer areas of Iraq, where they have taken refuge in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

In a statement on Tuesday, UNHCR said 10,000 to 15,000 people fleeing Sinjar had arrived in Syria. "Most are staying in the Newroz camp near Al-Qamishli (in Hassakeh province), run by local NGOs. Other refugees are scattered among various Yazidi villages in Qahtania or urban areas," they said.

The agency said it had provided aid to hundreds of families staying in three villages and a school as well as distributing tents and other relief to those at Newroz camp. "Hundreds are sleeping in the open and more shelter and food aid is needed urgently," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said in the statement.

Many Iraqis displaced by the violence that ravaged their country after the 2003 US-led invasion sought shelter in Syria, and some 220,000 Syrians, mostly Kurds, have crossed into northern Iraq to escape the fighting in their country since 2011.