Middle East

Kobane: Air strikes 'stall IS advance' on Syrian border town

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Media caption"Even from this distance it's clear... Islamic State have some control here," reports Quentin Sommerville on the border

US-led forces have continued air strikes against Islamic State (IS) militants near the besieged Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobane.

A senior local official said IS had been pushed back towards the edge of the town as a result of the strikes and advances by the town's defenders.

Earlier reports said the militants had controlled almost one-third of Kobane, on the Turkish-Syrian border.

Turkey has ruled out a ground operation on its own against IS in Syria.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu renewed calls for the creation of a no-fly zone along the Syrian side of the border during talks in Ankara with new Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg.

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Media caption"Does my son not have the right to live?" - Grieving mother of killed Kurdish fighter

Turkey - a Nato member - also wants co-ordinated action against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, and has called for a buffer zone.

A buffer zone would include preventing Syrian government aircraft from flying near the Turkish border. Turkey fears that Mr Assad's forces would be the main beneficiaries of an IS retreat.

But the BBC's defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus says creating such a zone would represent a significant military operation requiring the seizure of defendable terrain.

The US military on Thursday said it had carried out nine more air strikes near Kobane, damaging IS positions and destroying vehicles and buildings.

In a statement, the US said it was monitoring the situation in Kobane closely. "Indications are that Kurdish militia there continue to control most of the city and are holding out" against IS, it said.

The UN's special envoy in Syria, Steffan de Mistura, said on Wednesday that everything possible had to be done to save Kobane, and the town's fall would threaten Turkey itself.

By Mark Lowen, BBC News, Ankara

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Media caption"Why is Kobane the most important problem?" Yasin Aktay, Vice-Chairman of Turkey's governing AKP party, says to the BBC's Mark Lowen

Beyond the desire for Syrian President Assad to go, beyond the call for a no-fly zone, there is a far more profound reason for Turkey's reluctance to act in Kobane - the bad blood with the Kurds runs deep here.

And Yasin Aktay, vice-chairman of the governing AKP party, addressed the issue outright in an interview with me in Ankara.

"There is no tragedy in Kobane as cried out by the terrorist PKK [Kurdistan Workers' Party]", he said. "There is a war between two terrorist groups."

That is the suspicion of many - that the Turkish government is content enough to see fighting rage in Kobane as Islamic State and the Kurdish militia attack each other.

It's been likened to a proxy war, Ankara watching as Islamic State does Turkey's bidding, fighting its old Kurdish enemy.

Turkey fears an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria could reignite Kurdish separatism back home. And if the fall of Kobane would mean those territorial ambitions crumble too, so be it.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Protests are continuing in Turkish cities about Turkey's lack of support for the Kurds in Kobane, with the fiercest clashes in the capital Ankara

'Crazy without sleep'

The Turkish government won parliamentary authorisation for possible military action last week, allowing it to launch an offensive into Syria and Iraq against militants who threaten Turkey.

It also allows for foreign troops to be stationed in Turkey.

But there has been no move by Turkish forces, and pro-Kurdish protesters demanding intervention have clashed with police in several cities in recent days. Twenty people have killed.

Reports on how much of Kobane has fallen to IS are mixed.

Kurdish sources say that following a volley of coalition air strikes they still hold the city, while a British-based monitoring group said that IS had control of "a third" of Kobane.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said that the jihadists had taken much of the eastern part of the city following street battles against Kurdish forces, and was advancing towards the centre.

A local commander told the BBC that while his fighters were "going crazy without sleep", only 20% of the town was under IS control.

Kurdish forces say that they urgently need more weapons and ammunition "to stop the heavy weaponry of [IS]".

"They [IS] are using tanks, Humvee vehicles and cannons, rockets, mortars," he added.

At the scene: Quentin Sommerville, BBC News, Turkey-Syria border

As the battle for Kobane continues, on the Turkish side of the border, the long-running conflict between Turkey and the Kurdish population is on full display.

The governor of the Turkish border town of Suruc, Abduallah Ciftci, says he is providing humanitarian aid to those remaining inside the besieged town of Kobane, and that military help is impossible. Turkey's first priority must be to protect its borders, he said.

Kurdish protesters gathered this morning in cotton fields near the border demanding urgent help from Turkey. They say humanitarian help is especially needed.

One of the protesters, Hassibeh Merginkal, told me: "They are allowing Islamic State to kill our people and blow up our homes."

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Media captionTurkey's complicated relationship with the Kurds explained

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