Kurdish forces have thwarted a new attempt by Islamic State group fighters to cut off the Syrian town of Kobane from the border with Turkey before Iraqi Kurdish reinforcements can deploy.
The pre-dawn assault marked the fourth straight day the jihadists had attacked the Syrian side of the border crossing as the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters prepare to head for Kobane, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The peshmerga forces are “ready to go”, but they are not expected to deploy to Kobane before Monday at the earliest, Kurdish news agency Rudaw reported.
Kurdish forces, backed by US-led air strikes, have been holding out for weeks against an IS offensive around Kobane, which has become a high-profile symbol of efforts to stop the jihadist advance.
The US military said in its latest update that American warplanes carried out five air strikes near Kobane on Saturday and Sunday, destroying seven IS vehicles and an IS-held building.
Ground fighting for Kobane has killed more than 800 people since the IS offensive began on September 16, with the jihadists losing 481 fighters and the Kurds 313, said the Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria for its information.
Among the dead are 21 civilians, but the figures exclude IS losses to US-led air strikes, which the Pentagon has said run to “several hundred”.
The jihadist assault prompted nearly all of the enclave’s population to flee, with some 200,000 refugees streaming over the border into neighbouring Turkey.
Last week, under heavy US pressure, Turkey unexpectedly announced it would allow the peshmerga fighters to cross its territory to join the fight for Kobane.
The main Syrian Kurdish fighting force in the town has close links with the outlawed rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade insurgency in southeastern Turkey and Ankara had previously resisted calls to allow in reinforcements.
– ‘They don’t want the Peshmerga’ –
The Democratic Union Party (PYD) which dominates Kobane agreed to the offer of the peshmerga troops.
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan charged in comments published Sunday that the “terror” group did not really want the peshmerga forces to deploy to Kobane for fear of seeing its influence diminished.
The PKK and its allies have long had difficult relations with the parties that control the Kurdish regional government and its peshmerga forces in northern Iraq.
By contrast Ankara has developed a good working relationship with the Iraqi Kurdish authorities.
– ‘Destroying Iraqi civilisation’ –
The lion’s share of recent coalition strikes have been in neighbouring Iraq, as Washington has voiced mounting confidence Kobane’s fall to the jihadists can be prevented after US arms drops this month.
Twelve air strikes were launched in Iraq on Saturday and Sunday — three of them near Fallujah west of Baghdad and nine around the strategic northern dam of Mosul, which IS briefly held in August and has repeatedly tried to seize back.
On Sunday Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi paid a visit to Jordan, one of the five Arab nations taking part in the US-led air strikes.
After meeting with his Jordanian counterpart Abdullah Nsur he called for greater cooperation in the battle against IS, which he warned was “destroying Iraqi civilisation”.
Jordan borders Iraq’s Anbar province, much of which has been overrun by the IS.
The country has also been struggling to cope with an influx of refugees from the war in neighbouring Syria, where government air strikes on two besieged, rebel-held areas of Homs province killed at least 31 people, the Observatory said Sunday.
Meanwhile in Cologne, Germany at least 13 riot police were injured Sunday in clashes with far-right hooligans rallying against Islamist extremism.
Earlier this month Kurds in Germany clashed with radical Muslims in the northern city of Hamburg and elsewhere, in street protests fuelled by the conflict in Iraq and Syria.