Kurdish forces push back ISIL in northern Syria
BEIRUT / KARACA - Reuters
Syrian Kurds stand on a hill looking down on clashes between ISIL and Kurdish fighters, at Swedi village, some 10 km west of Suruç in Şanlıurfa province, on Sept. 24. AFP PhotoKurdish forces in northern Syria pushed back an advance by fighters of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) towards a strategic town on the Turkish border on Sept. 25 and appealed for U.S.-led air strikes to target the insurgents' tanks and heavy armaments.
ISIL launched a new offensive to try to capture the border town of Kobani more than a week ago, besieging it from three sides. At least 140,000 Kurds have fled the town and surrounding villages since Sept. 19, crossing into Turkey.
Kurdish and Islamic State fighters exchanged artillery and machinegun fire in a cluster of villages about 15 km (9 miles) west of Kobane, where the frontline appeared not to have moved significantly for several days, a Reuters witness said.
Kurdish officials meanwhile said ISIL had concentrated their fighters south of the town late on Wednesday and had pushed towards it, but that the main Kurdish armed group in northern Syria, the YPG, had repelled them overnight.
"The YPG responded and pushed them back to about 10-15 km (6-9 miles) away," Idris Nassan, deputy minister for foreign affairs in the Kobane canton, told Reuters by telephone.
Syrian Kurdish refugees watching the fighting from a hill on the Turkish side of the border said the ISIL insurgents had not been able to advance from positions they had taken up in olive groves west of Kobane.
Turkish military vehicles patrolled their side of the border, with soldiers occasionally moving people away from the hill overlooking the fighting. Heavy weapons fire could also be heard further away from the border inside Syrian territory.
The town's location has been blocking the Sunni Muslim insurgents from consolidating their gains in northern Syria. The group tried to take the town in July but was repulsed by local forces backed by Kurdish fighters from Turkey.
The YPG on Sept. 25 renewed calls for U.S.-led air strikes to hit ISIL positions around Kobane.
"Although all ISIL positions and their heavy armaments, including tanks and armoured vehicles around Kobani, are clear and within view for everyone on the front line, it is worth noting that these targets have not been bombed yet," YPG spokesman Redur Xelil said.
"We are of the utmost readiness to cooperate with the international coalition forces against terrorism and give it detailed information about the main targets," he said.
Öcalan Iso, a Kurdish defence official, confirmed that YPG forces had stemmed ISIL's advances south of Kobane, known as Ayn al-Arab in Arabic.
"As our fighters secured the area, we found 12 Islamic State bodies," he said by telephone. ISIL fighters also remain to the east and west of the town and fighting continues in the south.
Both men said they had also heard warplanes flying over Kobane late on Sept. 24 for the first time, but it was not clear exactly which areas they were targeting.
A third night of U.S.-led air strikes on Wednesday targeted ISIL-controlled oil refineries in eastern Syria, U.S. officials said.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war, said eight YPG fighters had been killed in overnight clashes.