The first of a group of nearly 200 Iraqi Kurdish fighters has arrived in Kobani to fight against "Islamic State" jihadists. Under international pressure, Turkey recently agreed to allow the fighters to pass the border.
A first group of 10 Iraqi Peshmerga fighters crossed the Turkish border into the town of Kobani on Thursday, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
After pressure from the US, Turkey agreed to allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters, known as Peshmerga, to cross into the Syrian town, which in many parts is besieged by "Islamic State" (IS) fighters. The Kurdish fighters are heavily armed with machine guns, heavy artillery and rocket launchers.
On Wednesday, Turkey allowed members of the anti-Assad Free Syrian Army to cross into Kobani to reinforce Kurdish fighters there, the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), who are outnumbered by the IS Islamists 3,000:1,000.
Turkey has been reluctant to offer support for the US-led war against IS in Syria and Iraq. Though it would like to see the Syrian dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad toppled, it is also reluctant to strengthen Kurdish forces that could have ties with the Kurdistan Worker's Parts (PKK), a group which has launched a 30-year insurgency in Turkey and has been declared a terrorist organization by the US and NATO.
IS militants launched an offensive on the border overnight and in the early hours of Thursday to prevent the Peshmerga fighters from entering.
"The bombardment of the border area will likely delay the entry of the Peshmerga," into Kobani, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The 10 Peshmerga who were able to cross on Thursday were expected to be joined by their comrades later in the day. Turkey allowed a group of around 150 Peshmerga to use its border crossing into Syria.
Political adviser for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban, accused Turkey of committing "aggression" against Syria by allowing the Peshmerga to pass through their border. Shaaban told the Associated Press on Thursday that Turkey was only interested in expanding its power in the region, suggesting it wanted to revive the Ottoman Empire, which ruled for 600 years and collapsed last century.
"I see that Turkey is continuing in its role of aggression against Syria and its very dangerous role in the region," Shaaban said. "Its very dangerous role in the region is motivated by their Ottoman ambition. [It] does not really target saving the Kurds."
Assad has been accused of committing crimes against humanity since the Syrian Civil War started in 2011. On Wednesday, the Syrian army barrel-bombed a displaced persons camp in the northern Idlib province in an attack said to have killed at least 10 people and wounded dozens more. Washington called the attack "nothing short of barbaric."
"We are horrified by the reports that the Assad regime barrel-bombed the Abedin displaced persons camp in Idlib and the images we saw of the carnage against innocent civilians," US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Incubator for mayhem
The civil war in Syria, which initially began with peaceful democracy protests during the so-called "Arab Spring" initiated in Tunisia and Egypt, has killed over 200,000 Syrians and displaced nearly half of the population. The war has also given birth to multiple insurgent groups, among them the heavily armed and financially well-supported Islamic State, which seeks to gain control of the region and install a caliphate in all of the Middle East. So far, not much has been able to stand in the way of the jihadists, who have seized vast swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria and committed brutal atrocities while doing so.
To counter the advance of the militants, the US began conducting airstrikes against IS targets in Iraq in August. In the latter half of September, the US coalition, backed by five Arab allies - including Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of initially providing financial and military support to IS - started air raids on the Islamists in Syria. UN Security Council approval was given for strikes in Iraq in September, but has yet to be issued for Syria.
Despite the strikes, the IS has continued to march forward in its quest to install the caliphate. Since arriving in Kobani last month, 800 civilians have been killed and 200,000 have sought refuge in Turkey.
The US announced on Thursday it had continued to carry out air raids on the Islamists in Kobani, with at least 10 strikes carried out in a 24-hour period. Two strikes were carried out in Iraq.
sb/kms (AP, AFP)