Coalition jets pound Kobani as ISIL shells target border

Islamist militants have battled Kurdish fighters for a month to take control of the city and consolidate a 95km stretch of land they control along the Turkish border, but stepped-up airstrikes in recent days have helped Kurds fend off the advance.

Smoke rises over Syrian town of Kobani after an airstrike, as seen from the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the south-eastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province on Saturday. Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters
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MURSITPINAR, Turkey // US-led coalition jets pounded suspected ISIL targets at least six times in the besieged Syrian town of Kobani yesterday after the fiercest shelling in days by the insurgents shook the town’s centre and hit border areas within Turkey.

Shelling continued after the strikes hit the centre of Kobani and several mortars fell inside Turkey near the border gate, called Mursitpinar, according to witnesses.

ISIL militants have battled Kurdish fighters for a month to take control of Kobani and consolidate a 95km stretch of land they control along the Turkish border, but stepped-up airstrikes in recent days have helped Kurds fend off the advance.

The coalition has been bombing ISIL targets in Iraq since August and extended the campaign to Syria last month after the militant group, which espouses a rigid interpretation of Islam and initially focused on fighting Syrian president Bashar Al Assad’s forces, made huge territorial gains.

Nato member Turkey is a somewhat reluctant member of the coalition, insisting it must also confront Mr Al Assad to end a civil war that has killed about 200,000 civilians since March 2011.

Yesterday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said US-led forces bombing ISIL in Syria killed 10 civilians in two separate airstrikes.

But US central command said there was no evidence to back up the report. Its forces use mitigation measures to reduce the potential for civilian casualties, a spokesman said.

In Kobani, a commander for the YPG, the Syrian Kurdish militia defending Kobani, who would only give her code name Dicle, said ISIL’s renewed attacks were aimed at severing the town’s last link with Turkey.

“They want to cut off Kobani’s connection with the rest of the world,” she said by telephone. “Turkey is not allowing in fighters or weapons, but they send aid at Mursitpinar. [ISIL] wants to destroy this gate so that we will be completely trapped here.”

Turkey has refused to rearm beleaguered Kurdish fighters, who complain they are at a huge disadvantage in the face of ISIL’s weaponry, many of it seized from the Iraqi military when it took the city of Mosul in June.

Turkey views the YPG with suspicion for its long-standing links with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a 30-year armed campaign for self-rule in Turkey.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this month the PKK was no better than ISIL in his view.

This stance sparked outrage among Turkey’s own Kurds, who make up about 20 per cent of the population. Riots in several cities earlier this month killed more than 35 people.

The Observatory said ISIL had launched at least 21 mortar attacks yesterday close to the border.

Abdulrahman Gok, a journalist in Kobani, said that the fighting was the worst in two days.

“In the past hour, the shelling has intensified. They are firing almost one every two minutes,” he said.

Gok noted that the insurgents were aiming at the east side of town towards the Mursitpinar gate.

A cloud of black smoke towered over the centre of Kobani following the latest airstrike as the roar of fighter jets could be heard from a blue sky. Gunfire popped in the west and centre of town.

Elsewhere in Syria, government forces shelled neighbourhoods in Damascus, the southern province of Deraa and the central province of Homs, opposition activists said.

Army helicopters were dropping improvised barrel bombs on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, in north-west Idlib province, which also borders Turkey, they said.

ISIL supporters circulated what they said was a nine-second video clip of a fighter jet being flown by ISIL militants.

The Observatory reported that Iraqi pilots who have joined ISIL in Syria were training members of the group to fly in three captured fighter jets over the captured Al Jarrah military airport east of Aleppo.

US central command said on Friday that it was not aware of ISIL flying jets in Syria.

Amid the escalated fighting, Turkish lorries could be seen carrying about two dozen Kurdish refugees away from the border.

Several hundred people are still sheltering in a minefield to the west of Kobani to stay with their vehicles and farm animals, which are not allowed in Turkey.

Turkey hosts about 1.5 million Syrian refugees, including almost 200,000 Syrian Kurds from Kobani.

In Britain, the families of two aid workers killed by ISIL in Syria yesterday urged people of all faiths to unite against the militants’ “hateful acts”.

In a letter published in The Guardian newspaper, Barbara Henning and Michael Haines urged everyone “to find a single act of unity – one simple gesture, one act, one moment – that draws people together”.

They said that “we will not allow the actions of a few people to undermine the unity of people of all faiths in our society. Together we have the power to defeat the most hateful acts”.

Barbara Henning’s husband Alan and Michael Haines brother David were two of the western hostages beheaded on ISIL propaganda videos.

* Reuters