Antakya: Militants of the Islamic State group were closing in on a Kurdish area of Syria on the border with Turkey an advance unhindered so far by US-led coalition airstrikes, including one that struck a grain silo, killing two civilians, according to activists.
Islamic State fighters yesterday pounded the city of Kobani with mortars and artillery shells, advancing within five kilometres of the Kurdish frontier city, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Nawaf Khalil, a Kurdish official.
The Islamic extremists intensified their shelling of the border region following US-led strikes Saturday. The aerial assault appeared to have done little to thwart the militants, Kurdish officials and activists said, adding that of anything, the extremists seemed more determined to seize the area, which would deepen their control over territory stretching from the Turkish border, across Syria and to the western edge of Baghdad.
"Instead of pushing them back, now every time they hear the planes, they shell more," Ahmad Sheikho, an activist operating along the Syria-Turkey border, said of the Islamic State fighters. He estimated he heard a rocket explosion every 15 minutes or so.
Three mortar shells landed in a field in nearby Turkey, the Turkish military said in a statement. After the strike, Turkey's military moved tanks away from the army post in the area, positioning them on a hill overlooking the border.
The push by Islamic State fighters caused thousands more Kurds to flee the Kobani area yesterday, adding to some 150,000 refugees who have fled to Turkey since mid-September, one of the largest influxes of Syrian refugees since the war began.
The Kurds were particularly fearful that the militants would repeat the mass killings of men and seizures of women that occurred in Iraq in August, after Islamic State fighters seized villages dominated by Iraqis of the Yazidi minority.
Men were leaving their families in Turkey and then heading back to Kobani to fight, Sheikho said.
Washington and its Arab allies opened the air assault against the extremist group on September 23, striking military facilities, training camps, heavy weapons and oil installations. The campaign expands upon the airstrikes the United States has been conducting against the militants in Iraq since early August.
The airstrikes are meant to ultimately destroy the group, which has declared a self-styled caliphate, or Islamic state, ruled by its harsh interpretation of Islamic law in areas under its control. Its brutal tactics, which include mass killings and beheadings, have galvanised the international community to take on the militants.