Fri, Oct 03, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Militants near Syria-Kurdish town

AFP, BEIRUT

Islamic State (IS) group fighters have advanced further toward the Syrian Kurdish town of Ain al-Arab, a monitoring group warned early yesterday, as local fighters retreated from one of the area’s fronts.

“The IS have advanced southeast of Kobane and on the western front, from which the Kurdish Popular Defense Committees [YPG] have now retreated,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman said, using the Kurdish name Kobane to refer to the town.

“There are real fears that the IS may be able to advance into the town of Kobane itself very soon,” Abdel Rahman said.

The advances came hours after US-led forces carried out at least five strikes against the Islamic State’s positions south and southeast of the town, which the militants have been battling to take for more than two weeks.

At least eight militants were killed in a strike on an IS tank east of the town on Wednesday, said the Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a wide network of sources inside Syria for its reports.

“Kurdish fighters on the front lines saw the bodies literally being thrown into the air” by the force of the blast, Abdel Rahman said.

Despite the airstrikes, the jihadists continued to shell the town on the Turkish border from positions as little as 3km away.

“The fighting in the past 24 hours has been the fiercest since the IS began its offensive” a fortnight ago, Abdel Rahman said.

“There are real fears for the Kurds’ capacity to resist, as the IS are using tanks and other heavy weaponry in their attack,” he said.

Abdel Rahman said the vastly outgunned Kurdish fighters were forced by the jihadists’ advance to retreat from the fight on the western outskirts of Kobane, in order to defend the edges of the town itself.

Kurdish security forces inside Kobane “are preparing themselves for street battles” that would break out should the jihadists break the local fighters’ last remaining line of defence, he said.

Hundreds of poorly equipped Kurdish fighters are facing thousands of jihadists armed with tanks, heavy artillery and 220mm multiple rocket launchers.

Local Kurdish leader Anwar Muslim acknowledged the balance of forces favored the jihadists.

“IS have brought in the weapons they seized from Mosul [Iraq’s second city] and Tabqa airbase [in Syria’s Raqa Province],” he said.

The group, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, seized large stocks of heavy weaponry from fleeing Iraqi troops when they captured Mosul in June. They took more when they overran the Syrian army garrison at Tabqa in late August.

Kurdish leaders have appealed to the US-led coalition battling IS to provide air support to the town’s defenders.

“We are trying to push them [the militants] back with the help of the coalition’s strikes. They are our common enemy,” Muslim said.

The Observatory had earlier reported that at least 10 people had been executed by the group on Tuesday, including a civilian and three Kurdish female fighters, who were beheaded.

A Kurdish male fighter was beheaded along with the women, and another five fighters were also executed in a separate incident in the area, the Observatory said.

Ain al-Arab would be a key prize for the Islamic State, giving it unbroken control of a long stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border.

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