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Tuesday, October 07, 2014
ISIL pushes into Kobani, street fighting escalates
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports ISIL controls three neighborhoods; civilians being told to leave
October 6, 20149:30AM ETUpdated 11:15PM ET ALJAZEERA
Fighters from Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) backed by tanks and artilleray have pushed into the Syrian town of Kobani for the first time, sparking street-to-street fighting and an order from its Kurdish defenders for all civilians to flee.
Two black ISIL flags were seen flying on Kobani's eastern side on Monday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Hours after the militants raised the two flags, the ISIL fighters punctured the Kurdish front lines and advanced into the town itself, according to the Local Coordination Committees activist collective and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
"They're fighting inside the city. Hundreds of civilians have left," said Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman. "The Islamic State controls three neighborhoods on the eastern side of Kobani. They are trying to enter the town from the southwest as well."
The center of the town was still in Kurdish hands, Abdurrahman said. Kurdish officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
The AFP news agency quoted a spokesman for Kurdish forces as saying that all civilians had been told to leave immediately.
"Military officials asked civilians to evacuate — they declared Kobani a military area," said the spokesman identified by AFP as Mustafa Bali. "ISIL advanced to the eastern side. There were fierce clashes in the streets," he added.
Earlier on Monday, ISIL fighters raised one black flag on a building on the eastern outskirts of Kobani. At that point, the town's Kurdish defenders said the assailants had not reached the city center.
ISIL, an Al-Qaeda offshoot, has been battling for more than two weeks to seize the predominantly Kurdish town, driving 180,000 residents into neighboring Turkey.
Airstrikes by U.S. and Gulf Arab state warplanes have failed to halt ISIL’s advance, with the group making gains on the outskirts of the town over the weekend and battling to secure a strategic hilltop in the face of fierce resistance. Kurdish sources over the weekend said the town’s defenders were running low on ammunition and pleaded for help from Turkish forces, who have thus far been hesitant to intervene due to Ankara’s conflicting priorities in Syria.
If ISIL enters Kobani, "it will be a graveyard for us and for them. We will not let them enter Kobani as long as we live. We either win or die. We will resist to the end," Esmat al-Sheikh, head of the Kobani Defense Authority, told Reuters by telephone Monday.
Capturing Kobani would give the Islamic State group, which already rules a huge stretch of territory spanning the Syria-Iraq border, a direct link between its positions in the Syrian province of Aleppo and its stronghold of Raqqa, to the east. It would also crush a lingering pocket of resistance and give the group full control of a large stretch of the Turkish-Syrian border.
ISIL has begun to govern its territory by its radical interpretation of Islamic law. Beheadings, mass killings and torture have spread fear of the group across the region, with villages emptying at the approach of pick-up trucks flying ISIL’s flag.
Eskin, reporting from Kobani, said morale was still high "because the people are protecting their own soil."
"They will not allow (ISIL) to occupy Kobani," he said.
But the Kurds’ desperation was made evident when one female Kurdish fighter near Kobani blew herself up on Sunday to avoid being captured by ISIL after running out of ammunition, a monitoring group and local sources said.
"They have ammunition, but it is so little," said Pawer Mohammed Ali, a translator in Kobani for the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) that controls semi-autonomous Syrian Kurdistan. "The PYD are just appealing to foreign forces for ammunition because (ISIL) is using heavy weapons, tanks and mortars."
Ali said fighting for control of strategically critical Mistanour Hill, overlooking Kobani, was continuing, and denied reports that ISIL fighters were in the town’s streets. He said Kurdish forces were holding ISIL fighters back but the situation in the town, where water and power had been cut off, was increasingly desperate.
Turkish hospitals have been treating a steady stream of wounded Kurdish fighters being brought across the frontier. Witnesses who fled Kobani said that women with no fighting experience were given grenades to throw, armed and sent into battle.
Kobani's Kurds have so far received little help from the international community. Turkey has given shelter to the bulk of the area's refugees, and its doctors have treated the wounded, but it has given no suggestion that it could join the fight against ISIL beyond gestures of self-defense.
Over the weekend, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to retaliate if ISIL attacked Turkish forces, and on Monday Turkish tanks deployed along the border for the second time in a week, some with guns pointing towards Syria, apparently in response to stray fire crossing the frontier.
Still, ISIL’s release last month of almost 50 Turkish hostages and a parliamentary motion last week renewing a mandate allowing Turkish troops to cross into Syria and Iraq, have raised expectations that Ankara may be planning a more active role.
Turkey's calculations are complex, however. For three decades, Ankara has fought an armed insurgency by the Kurdish PKK, the Turkish sister party of the PYD, who demand greater autonomy in Turkey's southeast.
Analysts say Ankara is now wary of helping Syrian Kurdish forces near Kobani as they have strong links with the PKK and have maintained ambiguous relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to whom Turkey is implacably opposed.
Leaders of Turkey's Kurds have warned that allowing Syria's Kurds to be driven from Kobani would spell the end of Erdogan's delicately poised drive to negotiate an end to his own Kurdish insurgency and permanently disarm the PKK.