"Islamic State" fighters have raised the group's black flags on the outskirts of the key Syrian border town, Kobani. The militants have also killed at least 30 people in twin suicide bomb attacks in Syria's north east.
Black flags belonging to the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" (IS) could be seen flying on Monday on a building to the east of Kobani and atop a hill overlooking the town.
Ayn al-Arab, also known as Kobane or Kobani, lies on Syria's border with Turkey, and for nearly three weeks has been under attack by "IS" militants who are trying to seize the frontier territory. The group has already made significant gains in other parts of Syria and across northern Iraq as part of their quest to establish a "caliphate" in the region.
Local sources inside Kobani told news agency Reuters on Monday that the jihadists had planted the flag on a four-story building on the town's eastern outskirts, but had not entered the city center.
"ISIL have only planted a flag on one building…they are not inside the city. Intense clashes are continuing," journalist Ismail Eskin said, referring to the group by the name it used to claim.
Anwar Muslim, premier of the self-declared Kobani autonomous canton, called for the US-led alliance to step up its airstrikes against IS, telling news agency DPA that the militants had reached "scattered houses at the eastern part of Kobani."
"On the ground we are able to carry on the fight bravely, but we need the allied forces to help us by striking terrorist bases which have heavy weaponry," Muslim said.
Thus far Kurdish forces have managed to hold off IS militants with support from airstrikes conducted by the US and its Arab allies. But despite the strikes, IS fighters have continued to besiege the town, and have now taken up positions to the east, west and south. Now they are trying to capture the area along the Turkish border to the north.
Over the weekend there was intense fighting for the strategic Mistanour hill overlooking the town. IS fighters managed to seize the southern part of the plateau on Sunday, but journalist Eskin told Reuters that the battle for higher ground was continuing through Monday.
Fight for territory
If IS manages to take Kobani, it would control a stretch of land from Syria's northeast along the Turkish border, to the Iraqi border in the southeast.
The IS assault on the Kobani region, which began on September 16, has driven tens of thousands of people over the border into Turkey. But many of the town's residents have also vowed to stay and fight, sparking fears that an IS breakthrough could result in a massacre.
"If they enter Kobani, it will be a graveyard for us and for them. We will not let them enter Kobani as long as we live," Esmat al-Sheikh, head of the Kobani Defense Authority told Reuters on Monday.
Also on Monday, there were reports 30 people had been killed in two IS suicide bomb attacks in the Kurdish stronghold of Hasakah in Syria's northeastern corner.
Rami Abdel Rahman from the Britain-based group, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the attacks targeted checkpoints manned by Kurdish fighters and happened within minutes of each other.
Help for Turkey
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also pledged Monday to stand by member state Turkey if it comes under attack from the IS campaign across the border.
"Turkey should know that NATO will be there if there is any spillover, any attacks on Turkey as a consequence of the violence we see in Syria," the new secretary general said in Warsaw.
Over the weekend, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would retaliate if IS attacked Turkish forces, and on Monday the country's military deployed tanks along the border, some with guns pointing towards Syria. Turkish lawmakers last week gave the government approval to join the campaign against IS, but so far no plans for military action have been announced.
nm/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP dpa)