Iraqi Peshmerga fighters have arrived in Turkey bound for the Syrian border to help fellow Kurds fight "Islamic State" extremists. Turkey has said it will allow the fighters to cross, but will not send its own troops.
A group of Iraqi Peshmerga was headed to the Syria border on Wednesday morning to give backing to Kurdish troops staging a defense of the town of Kobani.
The Peshmerga soldiers arrived early on Wednesday in Turkey, landing by plane at Sanliurfa airport in the southwest of the country. At least 150 were sent by the Iraqi Kurdish authorities to join the forces defending Kobani. A group of the fighters was due to make the journey overland with artillery.
Iraqi Kurdistan's Peshmerga Ministry secretary general, Jabar Yawar, declined to give further specifics. "We will not announce anything before we enter about the number of the force or their weapons," he told the DPA news agency.
The fighters who arrived in Turkey initially left the airport surrounded by Turkish security forces and were expected to cross into Syria through the Mursitpinar border crossing, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) away at an undisclosed time.
The crossing has been intensely fought over, with "Islamic State" (IS) fighters launching repeated attacks from the western side. Kurdish troops last week reoccupied the strategic Tel Shair hill, which lies to the east of the border post.
Turkey defends position
Turkish authorities had been reluctant to allow the Peshmerga through into Kobani, suspecting that the town's current defenders - the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) - also have links with Kurdish rebels inside Turkey.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu repeated on Tuesday that his country would not send ground troops of its own, given that other countries that are part of the coalition against IS were not prepared to do the same.
Davutoglu told the BBC that allowing the Peshmerga through was "the only way to help Kobani, since other countries don't want to use ground troops." Many Kurds within Turkey are also eager to cross to help in the fight, but have been stopped by Turkish border guards. The Free Syrian Army, which opposes both the regime in Damascus and the Islamists, has also sent a large number of fighters to help in the battle for Kobani.
IS launched an offensive against Kobani in mid-September, capturing dozens of surrounding villages. At least 800 people have been killed in the fighting, with more than 200,000 fleeing across the border into Turkey.
rc/av (AP, APF, dpa, Reuters)