Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the Syrian border town Kobani is “about to fall” to Islamic State extremists and that a ground operation is needed to defeat them, AFP reports.
Kurdish officials are saying the same thing.
Fighters from the Islamic State, the group also known as ISIS or ISIL, advanced southwest of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani overnight, a monitoring group said Tuesday, taking several buildings to gain attacking positions from two sides of the city.
Two Islamic State flags were still visible over the eastern side of Kobani, Reuters journalists viewing from across the nearby Turkish border said. Sporadic gunfire could be heard.
More than 2,000 Syrian Kurds including women and children were evacuated from the town, a member of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) said on Monday,
The Al Qaeda offshoot has ramped up its offensive in recent days against the mainly Kurdish border town, despite being targeted by airstrikes from a US-led coalition aimed at halting its progress.
The group wants to take Kobani to consolidate a dramatic sweep across northern Iraq and Syria, in the name of an absolutist version of Sunni Islam that has sent shockwaves through the Middle East.
“There were clashes overnight. Not heavy but ISIS is going forward from the southwest. They have crossed into Kobani and control some buildings in the city there,” said Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“They are about 50 meters inside the southwest of the city.”
Before the offensive, Kobani, known as Ayn al-Arab in Arabic, was home to refugees from the civil war that pits rebels against President Bashar Assad and has deteriorated into hundreds of localised battles between different factions.
An estimated 180,000 people have fled into Turkey from the Kobani region following the Islamic State advance.
The most powerful of the myriad militias fighting against Assad, Islamic State has boosted its forces with foreign fighters and defectors from other rebel groups. It gained additional heavy weaponry after its fighters swept through northern Iraq in June, seizing arms from the fleeing Iraqi army.
The group released a video showing dozens of men said to be from Ahrar al-Sham, a rival Islamist group that has clashed with it in the past, pledging allegiance to its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, SITE monitoring service said Monday.
(Reporting by Daren Butler in Mursitpinar, Oliver Holmes in Beirut and William Maclean in Dubai; Editing by Peter Graff)
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