Pressure mounts to save Kurdish town from jihadists

Pressure mounted on Wednesday (08/10/2014) for more international action to save the Syrian border town of Kobane, where Kurdish militia were waging a desperate fightback against Islamic State jihadists.

Increased strikes by a US-led coalition appeared to be helping Kobane’s Kurdish defenders, with reports of IS militants being pushed back in several neighbourhoods after heavy overnight fighting.

But after piercing the town’s defences following a three-week siege the jihadists remained inside Kobane, a Kurdish town on the border with Turkey that has become a crucial battleground in the fight against the IS group.

Amid warnings of Kobane’s imminent fall, the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, joined calls for the international community to take urgent action.

“The world, all of us, will regret deeply if (IS) is able to take over a city which has defended itself with courage but is close to not being able to do so. We need to act now,” he said.

“The international community needs to defend them. The international community cannot sustain another city falling under (IS)”.

An AFP reporter just across the border from Kobane in Turkey said fierce clashes continued early Wednesday, with the sounds of heavy gunfire and mortar shells falling on the town.

A new air strike was also carried out early Wednesday around Kobane, an AFP reporter said.

A local Kobane official, Idris Nahsen, told AFP that fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) had managed to push IS fighters outside several key areas after “helpful” air strikes by the US-led coalition.

“The situation has changed since yesterday. YPG forces have pushed back ISIS forces,” he said, using another name for the extremist group.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, confirmed that IS fighters had withdrawn overnight from several areas and were no longer inside the western part of Kobane.

They remained in eastern parts of the town and its southern edges, said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman, whose group relies on a network of sources inside Syria.

He said the withdrawal came after coalition air strikes hit IS positions “causing casualties and damaging at least four of their vehicles.”

The number of dead in the overnight fighting was not clear, but Mustafa Ebdi, a Kurdish journalist and activist from Kobane, wrote on his Facebook page that the streets of one southeastern neighbourhood were “full of the bodies” of IS fighters.

The Observatory has said that about 400 people, more than half of them jihadists, have been killed in and around Kobane since IS began its assault in mid-September.

Washington and its allies have stepped up their air raids around Kobane in recent days, as the town became an important symbol of resistance to IS.

The group has seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq, declaring an Islamic “caliphate” and committing widespread atrocities.

Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, would be a major prize for the jihadists, giving them unbroken control of a long stretch of Syria’s border with Turkey.

The Pentagon said coalition strikes near Kobane on Monday and Tuesday had damaged or destroyed several armed vehicles, anti-aircraft artillery, a tank and a jihadist “unit”.

AFP correspondents reported hearing at least eight strikes around Kobane on Tuesday.

Washington launched its air campaign against IS in Iraq in August and last month expanded it to Syria with the participation of five Arab allies.

The Turkish parliament has voted to join the campaign but Ankara has yet to announce military action despite the advance of the jihadists on its doorstep.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Tuesday that Kobane was “about to fall”, saying a ground operation was needed to defeat the fighters.

“I am telling the West – dropping bombs from the air will not provide a solution,” he said.

Ankara has come under increasing pressure to act in Kobane but its response has been complicated by concerns over emboldening Kurdish separatists, who have waged a deadly insurgency in Turkey for the last three decades.

Fury at Turkey’s inaction boiled over in the country’s southeast overnight Tuesday to Wednesday, with violent protests in a number of cities that officials said left at least 14 people dead.

Clashes have previously erupted in the border area close to Kobane, where some 200,000 mainly Kurdish refugees have fled the IS advance.

The Kurdish diaspora also held protests in Europe, with dozens of demonstrators bursting into the European Parliament in Brussels.

Nearly all of Kobane’s population is believed to have fled the town, though local activists say several hundred civilians remain.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Tuesday that Washington was “very concerned” about the safety of civilians in Kobane.

“Once again, we are seeing this extremist organisation, in the name of an otherwise peaceful religion, Islam, perpetrating terrible acts of violence against religious and ethnic minorities,” he said.

The United States and its allies have launched nearly 2,000 air raids against jihadists in both Iraq and Syria – with Canada the latest to join the air war after lawmakers on Tuesday approved a six-month mission. – AFP

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