Date :Tuesday, October 7th, 2014 | Time : 17:03 |ID: 17221 | Print

Kurds riot as Turkish tanks sit out key battle with Isis

SHAFAQNA – Riots erupted across Turkey yesterday after the nation’s soldiers watched but refused to intervene as the Kurdish town of Kobani, just across the Syrian border, was swamped by Islamic State fighters.President Erdogan of Turkey chose a visit to the nearby city of Gaziantep to announce that Kobani was “on the verge of falling”, even as the Isis artillery continued to pound residential neighbourhoods of the encircled town. Turkish tanks, their turrets pointed towards Kobani, were parked along the border within a few hundred metres of the fighting, but they remained motionless.

The US-led coalition changed tactics yesterday and started bombing Isis during the daytime, but failed to break the three-week siege.

President Erdogan pledged last week that he would not allow Kobani to fall; yesterday, he blamed Nato for his apparent change of heart, insisting that Turkish intervention was contingent on coalition support for a broader strategy to create a safe zone in northern Syria — something the United States rejects. “We asked for three things: for a no-fly zone to be created; for a secure zone parallel to the region to be declared; and for the moderate opposition in Syria and Iraq to be trained and equipped,” he said.

His refusal to act sparked fury across Turkey. Six people were killed in violent protests in Istanbul, Ankara and cities in the southeast. Curfews were declared in two southeastern provinces as protesters hurled petrol bombs at state buildings, blocked roads with barricades and burnt buses.

Police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannon, and, in one case, allegedly with live ammunition that left a 25-year-old man dead in the town of Varto, in eastern Mus province.

The plight of the Kurdish-populated Kobani has monopolised national attention in Turkey in recent days, kindling deep-seated anti-government sentiments among the country’s 15 million Kurds. “The protests will grow,” said Nazmi Gur, an MP for the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party.

The Democratic Union Party, the Kurdish movement whose fighters, known as the YPG, are defending Kobani, have appealed to Turkey to create a corridor to allow the supply of heavy weapons to reach them, but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

“If Turkey is really a part of this coalition, they have to open this corridor and allow immediate weapons and support for the people of Kobani,” Mr Gur said.

Thousands of Turkish Kurds have travelled to the border to watch the battle for Kobani unfold. Turkish security forces have cleared the area close to the border, and are using tear gas and water cannon to push onlookers back.

With Kobani on the brink, the US-led coalition launched its heaviest round of airstrikes yet in a last-ditch attempt to stop the town falling to Isis. Four Isis positions to the south and west of Kobani were hit yesterday morning, destroying several armoured vehicles. A second wave of airstrikes in the afternoon hit positions to the west.

Idris Nassan, a senior Kurdish official in Kobani, said the few night strikes in the past two weeks had been largely ineffective. “Isis hides the heavy weaponry at night, in civilian places, so jet fighters cannot find them,” he said.

Ibo Kader, a Kobani resident who fled across the border to Turkey yesterday, said he had seen two Isis tanks aflame after being hit by coalition airstrikes. “It is the first time I’ve seen tanks hit,” he said. “Why did they wait until the last minute?”

However, the strikes appear to be merely slowing Isis’s advance. The YPG has been locked in street-to-street fighting with the extremist group in the eastern suburbs since Monday. By 4pm yesterday, the sound of rifle fire could also be heard from Kobani’s western neighbourhoods.

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