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Kurdish fighters repel fresh 'IS' attack

October 19, 2014

Syrian Kurds have fended off a new attempt by "Islamic State" militants to cut off the city of Kobani. The jihadist group reportedly suffered heavy losses in the assault.

Kämpfe um Kobane 16.10.2014
Image: Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach

Kurdish fighters have repulsed a fresh attempt by "Islamic State" ("IS") militants to cut the Syrian town of Kobani off from the border with Turkey, raising hopes Kurdish forces would maintain control of the city.

"IS" forces reportedly launched a fierce attack from the east toward the border gate with Turkey before being pushed back. The jihadist group suffered heavy losses and was forced to send in reinforcements, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The news comes as the besieged city suffered its heaviest round of shelling by "IS" forces in days, with mortar shells hitting the town center and landing inside of Turkey in Mursitpinar.

"They want to cut off Kobani's connection with the rest of the world," a Kurdish militia source said. "Turkey is not allowing in fighters or weapons, but they send aid at Mursitpinar. The 'Islamic State' wants to destroy this gate so that we will be completely trapped here."

Kurdish forces have been battling "Islamic State" militants for control of Kobani for a month. "IS" forces seek to capture the town to consolidate a 60-mile (95-kilometer) stretch of land they control along the border with Turkey.

IS Kämpfer in Syrien 27.08.2014 Militärflughafen Tabka
"Islamic State" militants have been battling to take Kobani for a monthImage: picture alliance/AP Photo

But Kurdish resistance backed by expanded US-led coalition airstrikes have blunted the "IS" advance. The US military said it had carried out 25 more airstrikes in Syria and Iraq on "IS" targets since Friday. A US-led coalition airstrike hit a gas distribution facility in an "Islamic State" stronghold, killing at least eight people, activists said on Saturday.

Washington said the signs were "encouraging," but cautioned that airstrikes alone may not be adequate to prevent Kobani from falling to the jihadists, and emphasized its priority remains targeting "IS" in Iraq.

"Iraq is our main effort and it has to be, and the things that we're doing right now in Syria are being done primarily to shape the conditions in Iraq," said Central Command General Lloyd Austin.

Shells land inside Turkey

At least three shells reportedly landed on Turkey's side of the border, one of them close to a hill where the Turkish army is deployed. Syria's northern neighbor has sent dozens of tanks to defensive positions on a hill overlooking the besieged city.

Despite having the strongest army in the region, NATO member Turkey has been reluctant to get involved in the fighting against "IS." Turkey is suspicious of the Syrian Kurdish Militia (YPG) defending Kobani due to its connection with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a 30-year armed campaign for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey.

Türkische Panzer Kobane 06.10.2014
Turkey has sent tanks to defensive positions near the Kobani, but on its side of the borderImage: picture-alliance/AA/Ozge Elif Kizil

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that in his view the PKK was no better than the "Islamic State." He has demanded that the US coalition also widen its campaign against "IS" by aiding Syrian rebels battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

Kurds still in control

Meanwhile, Kurdish forces claim to control most of Kobani, and on Saturday they released a video which shows cheering crowds and the recapture of areas near the Syrian border from the "Islamic State."

"We have liberated the people here and driven away the terrorists," a Kurdish fighter said in the video.

bw/jm (Reuters, AFP, AP)