21 February 2019
Smoke rises from the Syrian border town of Kobani, which is under siege by Islamic State militants. Photo: AFP
Smoke rises from the Syrian border town of Kobani, which is under siege by Islamic State militants. Photo: AFP

Islamic State advances into Syria-Turkey border town

Despite air strikes by US and Gulf state forces against them, Islamic State militants have advanced into the Syrian border town of Kobani, forcing its mainly Kurdish inhabitants to flee into Turkey.

Street fighting raged between Kurdish defenders and the extremists who were said to be 300 meters inside Kobani’s eastern district, Reuters reported.

“We either die or win. No fighter is leaving,” Esmat al-Sheikh, the head of the Kurdish forces defending the town, told the news agency late on Monday. “The world is watching, just watching and leaving these monsters to kill everyone, even children… but we will fight to the end with what weapons we have.”

Islamic State besieged the town from three sides, and raised its black flag over a building in the outskirts, the report said.

Mortars have rained down on the residential areas, and stray fire has hit Turkish territory frequently in recent days, wounding people and damaging houses.

Until recently, Kobani had been hardly touched by the civil war that has ravaged much of Syria, and even offered a haven for refugees from fighting elsewhere, as President Bashar al-Assad chose to let the Kurdish population have virtual autonomy.

But beheadings, mass killings and torture have spread fear of Islamic State across the region, with villages emptying at its approach and an estimated 180,000 people fleeing into Turkey from the Kobani region, Reuters said.

On Sunday, a female Kurdish fighter blew herself up rather than be captured by the Islamic State militants after running out of ammunition, local sources and a monitoring group reported.

Turkish hospitals have been treating a steady stream of wounded Kurdish fighters being brought across the frontier.

Witnesses who had fled Kobani said that old women were being given grenades to throw, and young women with no combat experience were being armed and sent into battle.

Speaking last week, the co-chair of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party told Reuters that Islamic State had brought large parts of its arsenal from its de facto capital at Raqqa, 140 kilometers to the southeast, to the assault on Kobani.

“We are happy about the US air strikes,” Aysa Abdullah was quoted as saying. “But really, this is not enough. We need more air strikes to be effective against [Islamic State] weapons, to eradicate and destroy [them].”

In neighboring Iraq, the US military said it had flown Apache helicopters against Islamic State rebels for the first time, striking mortar teams and other units near the western town of Fallujah.

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