At least 50 Islamic State group jihadists have been killed in the past 24 hours in clashes, suicide bombings and US-led air strikes in Syria’s Kobane, a monitor said yesterday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the number of deaths was one of the highest daily tolls for the Sunni Muslim extremist group, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, since it launched an assault on the strategic town on the Turkish border in September.
The Britain-based monitoring group said at least five of those killed were suicide bomb attackers, two of them involved in attacks on the border crossing that separates Kobane from Turkey.
Another 11 were killed in clashes that ensued between Kobane’s Kurdish defenders and the militants at the border after the bombings, but there was no breakdown for the remaining toll.
The group also said 11 Kurdish fighters were killed in the same period in Kobane, along with one Syrian rebel fighter backing the Kurdish forces.
The Islamic State group launched an attack on Saturday on Kobane from Turkey, a Kurdish official and activists said, although Turkey denied that the fighters used its territory for the raid.
The assault began when a suicide bomber driving an armored vehicle detonated explosives on the border crossing between Kobane and Turkey, Kurdish Democratic Union Party spokesman Nawaf Khalil, and the observatory said on Saturday.
The Islamic State “used to attack the town from three sides,” Khalil said. “Today, they are attacking from four sides.”
Turkey, while previously backing the Syrian rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has been hesitant to aid them in Kobane because it fears that could stoke Kurdish ambitions for an independent state.
A Turkish government statement on Saturday confirmed that one of the suicide attacks involved a bomb-loaded vehicle that detonated on the Syrian side of the border. However, it denied that the vehicle had crossed into Kobane through Turkey.
“Claims that the vehicle reached the border gate by crossing through Turkish soil are a lie,” the statement released from a Turkish government press office at the border town of Suruc said. “Contrary to certain claims, no Turkish official has made any statement claiming that the bomb-loaded vehicle had crossed in from Turkey... The security forces who are on alert in the border region have ... taken all necessary measures.”
Reporters saw thick black smoke rise over Kobane during the attack. The sound of heavy gunfire echoed through the surrounding hills as armored vehicles took up positions on the border.
The observatory said heavy fighting also took place southwest of the town, where the Islamic State brought in tanks to reinforce their fighters.
Kobane-based activist Mustafa Bali said by telephone that Islamic State fighters had taken positions in the grain silos on the Turkish side of the border and from there were launching attacks toward the border crossing point. He added that the US-led coalition launched an airstrike on Saturday morning on the eastern side of the town.
“It is now clear that Turkey is openly cooperating with Daesh,” Bali said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.
Later in the day, he said the situation was relatively calm on the border after a day of heavy clashes.
The Islamic State claimed three suicide attacks in Kobane’s border crossing point, the SITE Intelligence Group reported.
The group, quoting Twitter accounts linked to the militants, said the suicide attacks were carried out by a Saudi and a Turkmen, adding that one of them was driving a Humvee.
The Islamic State began its Kobane offensive in mid-September, capturing parts of the town as well as dozens of nearby villages. The town later became the focus of airstrikes by the US-led coalition against the militants.
Kurdish fighters have been slowly advancing in Kobane since late October, when dozens of well-armed Iraqi Peshmerga fighters joined Syrian Kurds in the battles. The fighting has killed hundreds of fighters on both sides over the past two months.
Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid al-Moallem said in a television interview aired on Friday night that the US-led coalition’s weeks of airstrikes against militants in Syria had not weakened the Islamic State.
Washington and the UN Security Council “should force Turkey to tighten control” of its border in order to help defeat militants, he added.
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