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Islamic State tightens siege

Islamic State fighters tightened their siege of a town on Syria's border, despite air strikes.

Syrians check a damaged house, reportedly hit by US-led coalition air strikes, in the village of Kfar Derian in the western Aleppo province on 23 September, 2014. Picture: AFP.

KARACA TURKEY/BAGHDAD - Islamic State fighters tightened their siege of a town on Syria's border with Turkey on Friday despite U.S.-led air strikes aimed at defeating the militants in both Syria and Iraq, in a coalition which has now drawn widespread European support.

Britain, Washington's closest ally in the wars of the last decade, joined an alliance after weeks of weighing its options. Britain's parliament voted 542 to 43 to back Prime Minister David Cameron's decision to take part in air strikes in Iraq.

Belgium's parliament also voted 114 to 2 to take part and Denmark said it would send planes. Six Belgian F-16s took off for a staging post in Greece even before the vote.

"This is not a threat on the far side of the world. Left unchecked, we will face a terrorist caliphate on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a NATO member, with a declared and proven intention to attack our country and our people," Cameron told British lawmakers.

Until this week France was the only Western country to answer President Barack Obama's call to join the campaign. Since Monday, Australia and the Netherlands have also joined. On Friday Germany expressed support for the mission despite saying it would not send aircraft of its own.

Obama has sought international support for a military coalition against Islamic State, a powerful force in Syria which swept across northern Iraq in June, slaughtering prisoners and ordering Shi'ites and non-Muslims to convert or die.

The campaign has brought Washington back to the battlefield in Iraq that it left in 2011 and into Syria for the first time after avoiding involvement in a war that began the same year.

The coalition also includes several Arab states, all led by Sunni Muslims alarmed at the rise of Islamic State.

Islamic State has emerged as the most powerful Sunni militant group battling Shi'ite-backed governments in Iraq and Syria. The militants are also fighting rival Sunni rebel groups in Syria and Kurds in both Syria and Iraq, countries facing complex, multi-sided civil wars in which nearly every state in the Middle East has a stake.

French public support for the mission surged this week after the beheading of a French tourist in Algeria by captors who said it was retaliation for French participation in strikes in Iraq.

Paris said it might also join U.S. strikes in Syria although there was no plan yet to do so. European countries have so far agreed only to strike targets in Iraq, where the government has asked for help, and not in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad has not given permission, although he has not objected.

Russia questioned the legality of U.S. and Arab air strikes in Syria because they were carried out without the approval of Damascus, Moscow's ally.

"It's very important that such cooperation with Syrian authorities is established, even now that it's an accomplished fact," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.