Middle East

Kurds clash with Turkish security forces on Syria border

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Media captionThe BBC's Paul Adams says there is a sense of a "gradual squeezing" of the area by IS

Turkish Kurds and refugees from fighting in Syria have clashed with Turkish security forces on the border between the two countries.

Troops used tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters angry at the situation in Syria, where IS militants are closing in on the town of Kobane.

Meanwhile unconfirmed reports say at least 35 militants were killed in US-led air strikes over northern Syria.

They come amid a Turkish-US row over alleged support for Syrian militants.

On Friday US Vice-President Joe Biden criticised Turkey and US allies in the Arab world for supporting Sunni militant groups such as Islamic State, prompting a sharp response from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"If Mr Biden used such language, that would make him a man of the past for me," he told a news conference in Istanbul.

"No-one can accuse Turkey of having supported any terrorist organisation in Syria, including IS."

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Turkish security forces used tear gas and water cannon to break up the protests
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Kurds are angry and frustrated at perceived inaction by Turkey to prevent the IS advance in Syria
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Turkey is hosting tens of thousands of refugees from Kobane

The BBC's Paul Adams, on the Turkish-Syrian border, says the war of words comes at a very delicate moment for the region, as the last thing anyone needs is a row between major players like Turkey and the US.

Meanwhile in northern Iraq, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shia militiamen have driven back IS fighters from a strategically important bridge they were holding near the city of Kirkuk.

Kurdish troops used Iranian-supplied rockets to attack IS positions in areas with a mainly Sunni population.

Advancing Kurdish forces said their opponents were using the tactics of guerrilla warfare, using snipers, booby-trapped homes and laying scores of roadside bombs.

Turkish pledge

Tensions flared on the Turkish-Syrian border as Kurdish refugees from Syria and Turkish Kurds were chased by soldiers from a rocky hill on the Turkish side where they were watching the siege of Kobane.

The demonstrators were expressing their support for Kurdish fighters in Syria trying to stop the IS advance.

They are also angry and disappointed at Turkey's perceived inaction over IS in recent months, as well as its refusal to allow them to cross into Syria to fight.

More than 160,000 Syrians, mainly Kurds, have fled across the border since IS launched an offensive to capture Kobane on 15 September.

Turkey has pledged to prevent Kobane from falling to the militants and its parliament has authorised military operations against militants in Iraq and Syria.

But it appears to have taken no action to prevent the fighting.

Our correspondent says it is reluctant to lend support to the Kurdish forces in Kobane because they are allied to the PKK, banned as a terrorist organisation in Turkey.

The situation in Kobane does not appear to have changed dramatically, he adds, though some mortar and small arms fire has been heard in recent hours. But IS is getting closer and US-led air strikes are not stopping the advance.

Capturing the town, also known as Ayn al-Arab, would give IS unbroken control of a long stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border.

Activists from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that at least 35 IS jihadists had been killed in air strikes, but that most had died in a different area of northern Syria, near the town of Shadadi.

There is no way of independently verifying the reports, but the US confirmed four air strikes hit the Kobane area overnight.

Image copyright Reuters

In a separate development, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a public appearance on Saturday, visiting a mosque in Damascus at the start of a Muslim holiday.

Mr Assad is rarely seen in public, as his government continues fighting a civil war against rebel groups ranging from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army to Islamist militants including IS.

More than 190,000 people have been killed in more than three years of conflict.

What is Islamic State (IS)?

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Media captionIn 60 seconds: What does Islamic State want?
  • Formed out of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2013, IS first captured Raqqa in eastern Syria
  • It captured parts of Iraq in June, including Mosul, and declared a "caliphate" in areas it controls in Syria and Iraq
  • Pursuing an extreme form of Sunni Islam, IS has persecuted non-Muslims such as Yazidis and Christians, as well as Shia Muslims, whom it regards as heretics
  • Known for its brutal tactics, including beheadings of soldiers, Western journalists and aid workers
  • The CIA says the group could have as many as 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria