Kurds battle jihadists for Syria town on brink

Kurdish fighters mounted a desperate defence Friday of a Syrian border town besieged by Islamic State group jihadists as President Bashar al-Assad`s regime warned neighbouring Turkey against intervening on its soil.

Kobane: Kurdish fighters mounted a desperate defence Friday of a Syrian border town besieged by Islamic State group jihadists as President Bashar al-Assad`s regime warned neighbouring Turkey against intervening on its soil.

Huge plumes of smoke were seen rising from Kobane as its outnumbered defenders came under intense fire from IS fighters who have advanced to its gates despite US-led air strikes against them.

At least 60 IS mortar rounds rained down on the town Friday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which described it as the heaviest bombardment since mid-September.

It said a Chechen member of the IS organisation was leading the assault on the town, which is considered a strategic prize.

The fierce fighting came a day after the Turkish government won authorisation from parliament to take military action in Syria and Iraq against the jihadists.

"We will do whatever we can so that Kobane does not fall," Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, adding that about 186,000 people had flooded across the border from Syria in less than two weeks.

He reaffirmed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan`s call for a no-fly zone above northern Syria, saying that the Damascus regime could otherwise "carry out strikes on the Aleppo region with all its might and send three million refugees into Anatolia."

Damascus was quick to counter, saying the Turkish stance "represents a real aggression against a member state of the United Nations."

Ankara has not said what action it might take to prevent IS fighters from taking the town, and with it unbroken control of a long stretch of Turkey`s more than 900 kilometre (560 mile) border with Syria.

The United States has been working to build a broad international alliance against the jihadists who have declared an Islamic "caliphate" straddling swathes of Iraq and Syria where they have committed widespread atrocities.

The Pentagon said aircraft from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates joined US warplanes in new bombing raids Friday against IS in Syria.

Coalition planes hit militant tanks, oil refineries and a training camp, it said.

American aircraft also conducted three air raids in Iraq, including two northeast of Fallujah.

With the coalition`s air component expanding, Dutch Defence Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said Friday her country could send F-16 fighter bombers into action over Iraq by this weekend.

And Canada`s premier sought parliament`s support for a plan -- which is expected to be approved -- to send fighter jets to help fight IS in Iraq.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said MPs will be asked to vote Monday on the mission.At the annual hajj pilgrimage, Saudi Arabia`s top cleric urged Muslim leaders to strike the enemies of Islam with "an iron hand", in an apparent condemnation of the IS group.

Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh`s comments came after Saudi Arabia and four other Arab nations joined the Washington in aerial bombardment of IS militants in Syria.

"Your religion is threatened. Your security is threatened," he told Muslims from around the world during the hajj, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

"These criminals carry out rapes, bloodshed and looting," he said.

The US-led air campaign against IS in neighbouring Iraq already received a boost on Friday with Australia`s decision to join combat sorties in support of Kurdish forces and the beleaguered Iraqi army.

The White House praised the decision.

"With these deployments, Australia demonstrates its continued leadership and resolve in addressing the urgent and critical security challenges that threaten Australia, its people, and the broader international community," spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

Despite the coalition air strikes, IS fighters captured parts of the town of Heet, one of the last pro-government bastions in Iraq`s western Anbar province, police sources said.

Jihadists also blew up a key bridge in Iraq`s Salaheddin province as they retreated in the face of an offensive by pro-government forces.In Syria, Kurdish militiamen destroyed two IS armoured vehicles southeast of Kobane, killing seven jihadists, according to the Britain-based Observatory, which has a wide range of sources inside the country.

The US is pressing Ankara for the use of the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey by US jets launching assaults on IS in Syria.

Britain was sending two more fighter jets to Cyprus on Friday, raising to eight the number it has deployed to the air campaign in Iraq.

It follows France`s decision to raise to nine the number of jets it is committing to the air war in Iraq.

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