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Battle for Kobane Rages as Protests Against Turkey's 'Inaction' End in Kurdish Deaths

Up to 18 people were reported killed in clashes between security forces and Kurdish protesters in several cities.
October 8, 2014, 12:55pm
Image via Reuters

Fierce battles were on Wednesday being fought in the Syrian city of Kobane, amid reports of a major Kurdish offensive to prevent its fall to Islamic State and deadly clashes between Kurds and security forces across the border in Turkey.

The majority Kurdish city, just a few miles from the Turkish border, has for the past three weeks been under an intensifying siege from IS, which has now entered Kobane and is flying the black flag of its self-declared Islamic caliphate on Europe's doorstep.

Heavy fighting was reported in the east of the city on Wednesday, as IS forces attempted to recapture areas it had been forced out of by US-led airstrikes.

The international anti-IS coalition has turned its focus to Kobane amid fears that Kurdish YPG fighters alone will not be able to prevent the better-armed IS from taking the strategic city, and on Tuesday began aerial bombardments against positions held by the extremist group. Further strikes were reported on Wednesday, as heavy gunfire and explosions echoed on Turkey's frontier.

Kobane's fall would represent a significant advance for IS, allowing the group to connect territories it holds in Syria and giving it control over a long stretch of the Turkish border, a key route for bringing in foreign fighters and for smuggling out the oil which helps fund its operations.

Turkey is under increasing pressure to take action against the group. While President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been sabre-rattling in recent days — on Tuesday calling for a ground offensive to end the "terror" across the border and predicting that Kobane was "about to fall" — Turkish tanks have remained stationed at the border with security forces looking on as smoke rises from the city and the banner of the jihadis flutters from nearby hills.

Kurdish anger over Turkey's perceived inertia on Tuesday has led to seething tensions along the border, where Turkish forces have repeatedly used tear gas to push back Kurds trying to cross over to join the fight against IS. Many Kurds believe Ankara, which has for years struggled against its own Kurdish insurgency, is either turning a blind eye or actively conniving with IS in its assaults on Syrian Kurdistan.

On Tuesday, those tensions spilled over into violent clashes between protesters and security forces in several Turkish cities, with as many as 18 people reported killed across the country, according to Hurriyet Daily News. Curfews have since been imposed in a number of Kurdish areas.

Turkey's deputy prime minister, Yalcin Akdogan insisted that his government was doing what it could to help Kobane, insisting it was a "massive lie" that Ankara was complacent in the face of the assault.

However, Western officials have signaled increasing frustration over Turkey's reluctance to enter the fight. A key sticking point is the question of against whom the strikes are directed: Erdogan insists they must also target the regime of Bashar al-Assad, while the US is adamant they must be restricted to extremist targets.

A senior US official told the New York Times on Tuesday that "there's growing angst about Turkey dragging its feet to act to prevent a massacre less than a mile from its border."

"After all the fulminating about Syria's humanitarian catastrophe, they're inventing reasons not to act to avoid another catastrophe," the official said.

On Tuesday night, Kurdish fighters told the BBC that they were launching a fresh offensive to drive IS fighters away from the city.

But at the border, some of the 160,000 refugees who have fled the fighting expressed little hope that Kobane would be saved.

"Let America, Britain and all the world help us," Rezdar Azad, the 64-year-old father of three sons who had stayed behind to defend the city, told The Telegraph. 

"When Kobane falls, it will be like World War III. I haven't spoken to my sons for three days. I don't know what will become of them. No one likes us or cares about us. They just want us to die."

Follow Hannah Strange on Twitter: @hannahkstrange