Battle rages for Syrian town as bombs kill 41 children

Kurdish fighters backed by US air power in fierce struggle to keep Kobani from falling into ISIL's hands as blasts rock Homs.

The scene of a car bomb explosion outside the Akrameh Al Makhzumi school in the central Syrian city of Homs on Wednesday. Thirty children were among the at least 39 people killed. AFP
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MURSITPINAR, Turkey // Kurdish fighters backed by US-led coalition airstrikes were locked in fierce fightingon Wednesday to prevent a key Syrian border town falling into the hands of ISIL militants.

It came as 41 children were reported dead in twin bombings that hit a school in the government-controlled central city of Homs, which has been devastated by the three-year civil war.

Anti-militant air strikes and heavy clashes in the besieged town of Kobani (Ain Al Arab) on the border with Turkey killed at least 18 people – nine militants and nine Kurdish fighters, monitors said.

Ambulances ferried wounded fighters for treatment in Turkey amid mortar fire, with some rounds falling very close to the border.

The twin blasts in Homs farther south hit a neighbourhood inhabited mainly by the Alawite community of Syrian resident Bashar Al Assad which has been frequently targeted by militant groups.

One attacker carried out both of the bombings, planting a bomb at one location before blowing himself up at another spot, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

It said the dead children were among at least 48 people killed.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

About 191,000 people have been killed since an uprising against the Assad regime erupted in 2011, escalating into a several-sided war involving pro-government forces, hardline militants and more moderate rebels.

Near the Turkish border, Kurdish forces have been on the defensive for more than two weeks in the face of a militant assault that sent tens of thousands of refugees streaming across the frontier.

With ISIL fighters less than three kilometres from the town, the US-led coalition carried out three airstrikes in the area on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Pentagon said.

The raids destroyed an ISIL armed vehicle, an artillery piece and a tank, US Central Command said, bringing to seven the number of raids around Kobane since Saturday.

At least eight militants were killed when a tank was hit, according to the monitoring group.

“Kurdish fighters on the front lines saw the bodies literally being thrown into the air” by the force of the blast, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

One refugee from the fighting said the light weapons available to the town’s defenders meant that they could only engage the militants at close quarters.

Kobani would be a major prize for ISIL, giving it unbroken control of a long stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border.

The US-led coalition of western and Arab allies has been flying missions in Syria since last week against ISIL, an extremist Sunni group that has seized control of large parts of the country and neighbouring Iraq.

Backed by 11 coalition raids, Kurdish forces attacked Tuesday in the town of Rabia on the Syrian border, north of militant-controlled second city Mosul, and south of oil hub Kirkuk, commanders said.

Farther south, Sunni Arab tribesmen repelled a renewed militant attack in the town of Dhuluiyah in fighting that killed 14 people, police and medics said.

And a coalition warplane killed nine militants in a strike on an ISIL base near the town of Hawijah, a senior Iraqi intelligence officer said.

In Baghdad, a suicide car bombing ripped through a busy commercial street in a south-eastern neighbourhood, killing at least 11 people, police and medical sources said.

Iraqi foreign minister Ibrahim Al Jaafari said any international assistance in the fight against IS should preserve “Iraqi sovereignty”.

The Pentagon has warned there would be no quick and easy end to the fighting, with spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby saying: “No one should be lulled into a false sense of security by accurate airstrikes.”

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said dropping “tons of bombs” on IS would provide only temporary respite.

Nato member Turkey, after months of caution, has decided to harden its policy, and the government asked parliament on Tuesday to authorise military action against IS in Iraq and Syria.

Australia announced that its jets were joining the air campaign in neighbouring Iraq in a support capacity.

Prime minister Tony Abbott, who has described ISIL as an “apocalyptic death cult” said the aircraft would provide reconnaissance and refuelling support.

Britain said its jets targeted two ISIL vehicles west of Baghdad overnight in their second strikes on the militants in Iraq in as many days.

France, which has six Rafale fighter jets and just under 1,000 soldiers based in the UAE, said it would boost its military deployment in the coalition fight against ISIL in Iraq.

* Agence France-Press