Syria Kurds weather IS assault as they await reinforcements

Kurdish fighters in the battleground Syrian town of Kobane weathered an onslaught by Islamic State group militants on Tuesday as they waited for promised reinforcements.

AFP| Updated: Oct 21, 2014, 20:10 PM IST

Kobane: Kurdish fighters in the battleground Syrian town of Kobane weathered an onslaught by Islamic State group militants on Tuesday as they waited for promised reinforcements.

Fighting continued in Kobane but appeared to have lessened after a fierce attack by IS fighters, including suicide bombers, late on Monday, witnesses and monitors said.

IS forces based in the east of the town were exchanging fire with Kurdish militia in the west and there were reports of an explosion, probably a car bomb, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

Kobane has become a crucial symbolic battleground in the war against IS, which is fighting to extend areas under its control in Iraq and Syria where it has declared an Islamic "caliphate".

Ankara announced on Monday that it would help Kurdish forces from Iraq to relieve Kobane`s beleaguered defenders, in a major shift of policy that was swiftly welcomed by Washington.

Iraqi Kurdish officials have said they will provide the training, although any forces sent will be Syrian Kurds.

A local Kurdish official, Idris Nassen, told AFP Kobane was relatively calm on Tuesday, adding that no reinforcements had yet arrived and they did not have "any idea" when they would.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu confirmed that Kurdish fighters had yet to cross from Turkey to Kobane, telling NTV television "the issue is still being discussed".

The US administration has stepped up its commitment to Kobane in recent days, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying it would be "irresponsible" and "morally very difficult" not to help.

Three C-130 cargo aircraft carried out what the US military called "multiple" successful drops of supplies early on Monday, including arms provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq.A US-led coalition has carried out more than 140 air strikes against IS targets around Kobane, but it was the first time it had delivered arms to the town`s defenders.

Coalition aircraft carried out further strikes during the night, said the Britain-based Observatory, which has a wide network of sources inside Syria.

IS lost at least five of its militants to air strikes on Monday and a further 12 in ground fighting, including two suicide bombers, the monitoring group said. 

Five Kurdish fighters were also killed.

The British government, which has joined coalition air strikes against IS in Iraq, said Tuesday it would deploy drones to conduct surveillance on the group in Syria. 

In spite of the Kobane operation, US commanders said the top priority remains Iraq, where IS swept through much of the Sunni Arab heartland north and west of Baghdad in June, and both government and Kurdish forces are under pressure.

The jihadists attacked the Kurdish-controlled town of Qara Tapah on Monday, killing at least 10 people and prompting half of its population of 9,000 to flee.

"We are afraid IS will encircle us and turn this town into a second Amerli," said one resident, referring to a mainly Shiite Turkmen town further north which was besieged by IS for two months over the summer.

Since last week, the Iraqi capital has also seen a rise in the number of bomb attacks, several of which have been claimed by IS.

Two car bombs exploded Tuesday in a Shiite area of northeast Baghdad, killing at least 12.

The violence has raised fears IS will attack large gatherings of Shiite worshippers during the upcoming Ashura commemorations, the target of devastating bombings in past years.Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi meanwhile described IS as "a threat to the entire region" while in Tehran for talks with his Shiite ally.

IS holds towns just a few miles (kilometres) from the Iranian border, and Tehran has been a key backer of Baghdad`s efforts to hold them back.

According to a senior Iraqi Kurdish official, Iran has deployed troops on the Iraqi side of the border in the Khanaqin area northeast of Baghdad.

Iranian forces also played a role in breaking the siege of Amerli, another senior Kurdish official said.

But Abadi on Monday ruled out any foreign ground intervention to assist government forces in retaking territory lost to jihadists.

"No ground forces from any superpower, international coalition or regional power will fight here," Abadi told reporters.

"This is my decision, it is the decision of the Iraqi government, he said.

In Syria, IS posted a video on YouTube appearing to show a Syrian man taking part in stoning his daughter to death for alleged adultery.

The Observatory said the execution took place in August or September in an IS-controlled rural area in the east of the central province of Hama.

It was the latest in a spate of videotaped executions that the jihadists have posted on social media as they impose their extreme version of Islamic sharia law on areas under their control.