Isis fighters in Kobani: Civilians flee as militants enter Syria-Turkey border town

SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Isis fighters backed by tanks and artillery have pushed into an embattled Syrian town on the border with Turkey and taken three districts after heavy street battles with the town’s Kurdish defenders.

Hours after the Isis (also known as Islamic State) militants raised two of the group’s black flags on the outskirts of Kobani, they punctured the Kurdish front lines and advanced into the town itself, the Local Co-ordination Committees activist collective and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“They’re fighting inside the city. Hundreds of civilians have left,” said observatory director Rami Abdurrahman. “The Islamic State controls three neighbourhoods on the eastern side of Kobani. They are trying to enter the town from the south west as well.”

The centre of the town was still in Kurdish hands, Mr Abdurrahman said. Kurdish officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

Since it began its offensive in mid-September, Isis has barrelled through one Kurdish village after another as it closed in on its main target, Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab. The assault has forced about 160,000 Syrians to flee and put a strain on Kurdish forces, who have struggled to hold off the extremists even with the aid of limited US-led air strikes.

Capturing Kobani would give Isis, which already rules a huge stretch of territory spanning the Syria-Iraq border, a direct link between its positions in the Syrian province of Aleppo and its stronghold of Raqqa to the east. It would also crush a lingering pocket of resistance and give the group full control of a large stretch of the Turkish-Syrian border.

After initially setting up positions to the east, south and west of the town, IS shelled Kobani for days to try to loosen up the defences.

“Isis is advancing further towards Kobani day by day,” said Ismet Sheikh Hassan, the defence chief for Kurdish forces in the area, using an alternative name for IS. “Isis is fighting with tanks and heavy weapons and they are firing randomly at Kobani. There are many civilian casualties because of the shelling.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said about 20 IS fighters managed to sneak into the eastern part of Kobani overnight, but were ambushed and killed by Kurdish militiamen.

Syrian Kurdish forces have long been among the most effective adversaries of IS, keeping the extremists out of the Kurdish enclave in north-eastern Syria even as the militants routed the armed forces of both Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

But in recent weeks the overstretched Kurds have struggled to counter the increasingly well-armed militants, who have been strengthened by heavy weapons looted from captured Syrian and Iraqi military bases.

As fighting raged within sight of the Turkish border, the country’s defence minister Ismet Yilmaz said the Nato alliance had drawn up a strategy to defend Turkey, a Nato member, if it is attacked along its frontier with Syria. The move came at Turkey’s request.

Turkey has warily watched the fight for Kobani unfold. Yesterday at least 14 Turkish tanks took up defensive positions on a hilltop on Turkish soil near the besieged town, while a shell from the fighting struck a house and a grocery store inside Turkey.

Yesterday’s heavy clashes followed a particularly bloody Sunday, when more than 45 fighters on both sides were killed, according to the observatory and the Kurdish force known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG.

The dead included a Kurdish female fighter who blew herself up, killing 10 jihadists. A YPG statement identified her as Deilar Kanj Khamis, better known by her military name, Arin Mirkan.

She was a member of the Women’s Protection Units, a branch of the main Kurdish militia. The force has more than 10,000 female fighters who have played a major role in the battles against IS.

Nasser Haj Mansour, a defence official in Syria’s Kurdish region, said after Kurdish fighters were forced to withdraw from a strategic hill south of Kobani, Khamis stayed behind, and as IS fighters moved in she attacked them with gunfire and grenades, eventually blowing herself up. The Kurds then recaptured the position.

“If necessary, all our female and male fighters will become Arin. The attacks by mercenaries of (IS) against Kobani will not be allowed to achieve their goals,” the YPG statement said.

Syria’s Kurds have been lobbying for greater support from the international community to help them in their fight against the Islamic State militants. While the US-led coalition has carried out some air strikes against militant positions around Kobani, they have failed to blunt the extremists’ advance.

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon expressed “grave concern” about the IS offensive on Kobani, which is also known as Ayn al-Arab.

In light of the “barbarous campaign” by IS, Mr Ban “urgently calls on all those with the means to do so to take immediate action to protect the beleaguered civilian population of Ayn al-Arab”, his spokesman said.

Source: Reuters/The Independent

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