Kurdish fighters mounted an increasingly desperate defence against the Islamic State group’s advance on the Syrian town of Kobane on Friday, calling for international help and warning that the militants had advanced to within 1 kilometre of the city.
At least 60 mortar rounds fired by the Islamic State group bombarded the town on Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, as Kurdish fighters pleaded for help from the international community.
“For about 16 days we are defending Kobane. We are alone,” a Syrian Kurdish official, Idris Nahsen, told AFP by telephone. “We need help from the international community. We need weapons and ammunition,” he said. Huge plumes of smoke were seen rising from Kobane, which is also known as Ain al-Arab, as its outnumbered defenders came under intense fire from the jihadists who have advanced to the city’s gates despite continuing US-led airstrikes against their positions.
The Observatory said a Chechen member of the jihadist group was leading the assault. Turkish officials vowed not to let the largely Kurdish town fall into the hands of the militants, a day after the Turkish parliament voted to approve military action against Islamic State group targets in both Syria and Iraq.
“We will do whatever we can so that Kobane does not fall,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, adding that about 186,000 people had flooded across the border from Syria in less than two weeks. Ankara has not specified what action it is prepared to take to prevent Islamic State group fighters from taking the town, which would give the Islamist group control of an unbroken stretch of Turkey’s more than 900-kilometre (560-mile) border with Syria.
Turkish officials have cautioned against expecting rapid military steps following parliament’s authorisation, and it remains unclear if Turkish armed forces will be used against the militants. Turkey has also not announced whether it will allow the transit of lethal weaponry across its territory or if it will restrict its participation to offering humanitarian and non-lethal aid.
Syria warns against Turkish ‘aggression’
The Syrian government said Friday that any Turkish military intervention on its soil would be considered an act of aggression and urged the UN Security Council to prevent Ankara from taking any such action. Damascus said Turkey’s position “represents a real aggression against a member state of the United Nations”. Turkish President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that it remained a Turkish “priority” to “remove the Syrian regime“.
The United States has been working to build a broad international alliance against the jihadists who have declared an Islamic “caliphate” across large areas of Iraq and Syria where they have committed widespread atrocities. The Pentagon said that aircraft from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates joined US warplanes in bombing raids Friday against jihadist tanks, oil refineries and a training camp in Syria.
US aircraft also conducted three air raids in Iraq, including two northeast of Fallujah. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Friday that his cabinet had authorised the deployment of special forces to advise and assist Iraqi forces alongside the British, Canadian and US advisers already on the ground.
Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper is seeking parliamentary approval for a plan to send up to six CF-18 fighter jets to Iraq as well as increase the number of Canadian advisers on the ground to up to 69 from the 26 previously deployed. A vote, which is expected to approve the proposal, is set for Monday.
‘Your religion is threatened’
Saudi Arabia’s top cleric urged Muslim leaders to strike the enemies of Islam with “an iron hand” in an apparent condemnation of the Islamic State group on Friday.
“Your religion is threatened. Your security is threatened,” Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh told thousands of Muslims who had gathered from around the world for the annual hajj pilgrimage, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.
“These criminals carry out rapes, bloodshed and looting,” he said, adding that “these vile crimes can be considered terrorism” and their perpetrators have nothing to do with Islam.
Despite the airstrikes, Islamic State fighters captured parts of the town of Heet, one of the last pro-government bastions in Iraq’s western Anbar province, police sources said Friday.
The jihadists also blew up a key bridge in Iraq’s Salaheddin province as they retreated in the face of an offensive by pro-government forces.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)