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ISIS Fighting Traps 30,000 Civilians on Syrian Border With Turkey

by F. Brinley Bruton /  / Updated 

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Some 30,000 Syrians fleeing intensifying fighting between ISIS and other opposition groups were trapped near the border with Turkey on Friday, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

"Fierce battles continue between ISIS and the (Free Syrian Army)," Gerry Simpson, a senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch, told NBC News by phone from the Turkish side of the border. Many of the civilians, who could not cross the border, were being forced to sleep in the open and dig ditches to hide, he said.

According to the New York-based rights group, ISIS advances on Wednesday and Thursday had forced out the residents of six displaced person camps, with three of the camps standing empty on Friday.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) also said it had seen a "mass displacement" of Syrians at the Bal al Salam border crossing.

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ISIS militants have clashed with rival insurgents like al-Qaeda's Nusra Front and the more moderate FSA, as well as forces loyal to the government of President Bashar Assad in the northern city Aleppo, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday. ISIS was making a wide advance on opposition-held territory along the Turkish border as a result, the Observatory added.

Human Rights Watch also called on Turkish border guards to stop shooting at the civilians and allow them to cross into that country.

"Turkey is responding with live ammunition instead of compassion," Simpson said. "The whole world is talking about fighting ISIS, and yet those most at risk of becoming victims of its horrific abuses are trapped on the wrong side of a concrete wall."

The Human Rights Watch report quoted a civilian who had escaped ISIS and tried to flee to the border, which Turkey closed in March last year.

Related: Did Obama Reject CIA Plan That Could Have Stopped ISIS?

"As we approached the border wall we saw Turkish soldiers on a hill behind the wall and they just started shooting at us," according to the unnamed civilian. "They shot at our feet and everyone just turned round and ran in all directions. I took my family and we walked to another (displaced persons) camp nearby.

The civilian added: "We're afraid now because ISIS is close to this camp too. But where can we go?"

Turkish officials did not respond to a request to comment on the allegations that its forces were shooting at fleeing Syrians and using live ammunition. There are some 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, according to the U.N.'s refugee agency UNHCR.

Also on Friday, a Syrian government delegation arrived in Geneva to join a new round of peace talks underway with an umbrella opposition group that seeks to find a resolution to the country's five-year civil war. ISIS and Nusra Front are not part of a February ceasefire, which has held in most of Syria, except in the north.

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