Isis presses assault on Syrian border town

Kurdish militants warned that peace talks with Turkey could come to an end.

A Kurdish peshmerga fighter looks at smoke rising in the horizon following US airstrikes targeting Islamic State (IS) militants at Mosul Dam on 18 August 2014. Picture: AFP

SURUC - Islamic State insurgents tightened their grip on a Syrian border town on Thursday despite coalition air strikes meant to weaken them, sending thousands more Kurdish refugees into Turkey and dragging Ankara deeper into the conflict.

Kurdish militants warned that peace talks with the Turkish state would come to an end if the Islamist insurgents were allowed to carry out a massacre in the predominantly Kurdish town of Kobani, pressuring Ankara to act.

Islamic State fighters advanced to within a few kilometres of the town on three sides, after taking control of hundreds of villages around Kobani in recent weeks, beheading civilians in a bid to terrorise their residents into submission.

In neighbouring Iraq, the insurgents have carried out mass executions, abducted women and girls as sex slaves, and used children as fighters in systematic violations that may amount to war crimes, the United Nations said.

They took control of most of the western Iraqi town of Hit early on Thursday in Anbar province, where they already control many surrounding towns, launching the assault with three suicide car bombs at its eastern entrance.

US led forces, which have been bombing Islamic State targets in Syria since last week as well as in Iraq, hit a village near Kobani on Wednesday and strikes were reported further south overnight, Kurdish sources in the town said.

But they seemed to do little to stop the Islamists' advance.

"We left because we realised it was only going to get worse," said Leyla, a 37-year-old Syrian arriving at the Yumurtalik border crossing with her six children after waiting 10 days in a field, hoping the clashes would subside.

"We will go back tomorrow if Islamic State leaves. I don't want to be here, I had never even imagined Turkey in my dreams before this," she said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors Syria's war, said Islamic State militants were clashing with Kurdish fighters hundreds of metres from Kobani, raising fears they would enter the town "at any moment".

About 20 explosions were heard in the areas of the Tishrin dam and town of Manbij roughly 50 km south of Kobani overnight, resulting from missile strikes believed to be carried out by the coalition, the Observatory said earlier.

Asya Abdullah, a senior official in Syria's dominant Kurdish political party the Democratic Union Party (PYD), said there were clashes to the east, west and south of Kobani and that Islamic State had advanced to within 2-3 km on all fronts.

"If they want to prevent a massacre [the coalition] must act much more comprehensively," she told Reuters by phone from Kobani, adding that air strikes elsewhere in Syria had pushed Islamic State fighters towards the border town.

"We've been fighting Isis with all our strength for 18 days to save Kobani. We will continue the resistance...It's civilians who will die if Kobani falls. But we will protect them."


Turkey's parliament will vote later on a motion which would allow the government to authorise cross-border military incursions against Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq, and allow coalition forces to use Turkish territory.

The Turkish army vowed to defend the tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, in a Turkish enclave in northern Syria, telling its troops there that it would rush to their defence if needed.

"One call and we will immediately be at your side," Chief of the General Staff General Necdet Ozel said in a statement.

But President Tayyip Erdogan insists US-led air strikes alone will not contain the Islamic State threat and is calling for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an aim not shared by the US-led military coalition.

Turkey accuses Assad of stoking the growth of Islamic State through sectarian policies and believes the stability on its 900 km border will only deepen if he clings to power.

It is also reluctant to take action that may strengthen Kurdish fighters allied to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant group that has fought the Turkish state for three decades and with which it is conducting fragile peace talks.

"If this massacre attempt achieves its goal it will end the process [with Turkey]," PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan said in a statement released by a pro-Kurdish party delegation which visited him on Wednesday in his island prison near Istanbul.

"I urge everyone in Turkey who does not want the process and the democracy voyage to collapse to take responsibility in Kobani," he said in the statement.

Kurdish forces allied to the PKK, the People's Defence Units (YPG), are fighting against the Islamic State insurgents attacking Kobani. The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union.

German lawmaker Rolf Muetzenich, a foreign and security policy expert in the lower house for the Social Democrats (SPD) - junior partners in the ruling coalition - said in a radio interview he worried that Turkish intervention in Syria could end up targeting the PKK and become "an additional conflict accelerator in an already unpredictable situation".