MURSITPINAR, Turkey - Islamic State militants closed in on Syria's third-largest Kurdish town on Sunday as tens of thousands of people fled in terror across the border into Turkey.
The UN refugee agency said as many as 70,000 Syrian Kurds had streamed into Turkey since Friday, and solidarity demonstrations by Turkish Kurds on the border prompted clashes with security forces.
Syrian Kurdish fighters backed by reinforcements from Turkey are battling to hold off a jihadist advance on the strategic border town of Ain al-Arab, known as Kobane by the Kurds.
The IS group has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria, declaring a "caliphate", imposing its harsh interpretation of Islamic law and committing widespread atrocities including beheadings and crucifixions.
The Syrian opposition has warned of potential massacres should IS extremists advance on Ain al-Arab, and pleaded for international intervention.
But despite US promises to expand its air campaign against IS in Iraq to Syria, there were no signs yet of American strikes in the country.
Speaking of his decision to flee, Sahab Basravi said: "When the Daesh (IS) attacked Ain al-Arab, we were frightened. They said in the mosques that they could kill all Kurds between seven and 77 years old. So we collected our things and left, immediately."
He said he had not witnessed fighting or executions, but the reputation of IS jihadists was enough to persuade him not to stay.
UNHCR said it feared the massive influx of refugees would only grow, and said authorities were preparing for the possibility of hundreds of thousands of additional arrivals.
Tear gas and water cannon
IS fighters have been advancing on Ain al-Arab since late Tuesday, hoping to cement their control over a large part of Syria's border with Turkey.
On Sunday, they were within some 10 kilometres (six miles) of the town, after capturing more than 60 villages in the area, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The fighting has killed at least 27 Kurdish militants and 39 IS jihadists, according to the Britain-based monitoring group.
At the border on Sunday, Turkish security forces used tear gas and water cannon to disperse a solidarity demonstration by Turkish Kurds and later closed most border crossing points in the area, including one used by Kurdish fighters heading to Syria.
Only two posts remain open, and the interior ministry will now register new arrivals.
Mustefa Ebdi, a Kobane resident, local journalist and activist, said the streets of his town - once home to about 50,000 people - were virtually empty.
"Most of the women and children have left Kobane, but there are thousands of Kurdish men who have taken up arms and are ready to defend the city," he told AFP by telephone, adding that the fighters would have a hard time matching the heavy weapons of IS.
"We need one US airplane to strike those barbarians, where is this international coalition?" he asked.