THE LEVANT – Crowds of flag-waving Kurds greeted Iraqi peshmerga fighters travelling through Turkey Wednesday to join opposition rebels reinforcing the Syrian town of Kobane against an attack by the Islamic State jihadist group.
Flashing victory signs, the fighters armed with machineguns, heavy artillery and rocket launchers received a euphoric welcome from Turkish Kurds who lined the road shouting “Long live peshmerga!”
Another group of several dozen peshmerga flew into the Turkish city of Sanliurfa from Iraq.
Escorted by Turkish armoured vehicles, they boarded buses and headed toward the border to wait for the overland convoy.
Separately, dozens of opposition rebel fighters with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) crossed from Turkey to Kobane, officials said, to help Kurdish militia who have faced an onslaught by IS jihadists for weeks.
The town has become a symbol of the battle against IS, an extremist Sunni Muslim group that has seized swathes of Syria and Iraq, committing atrocities and declaring an Islamic “caliphate”.
In Iraq, IS militants executed more than 40 members of a tribe that recently fought against them in the troubled province of Anbar, a local leader and other sources said Wednesday.
Images posted online of the purported aftermath showed more than 30 men in civilian clothes lying in the middle of a blood-stained street as young men and children look on.
The victims are barefoot and many are blindfolded, their hands bound behind their backs. The authenticity of the images could not be independently verified.
Iraqi security forces, Shiite militias and some Sunni tribesmen are fighting to push IS back, but have made only limited local progress so far.
‘Peshmerga arriving soon’
Under heavy pressure from the United States, Turkey announced last week it would allow fighters from Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish province to travel through its territory to join the fight for Kobane in Syria.
Iraqi Kurdish officials said up to 200 fighters would be sent.
The town’s Kurdish defenders have been helped by weapon drops and intensified US-led air strikes against jihadists but until now they have received little in the way of reinforcement.
Turkey has been wary of giving support to the Kurdish militias in Kobane because of their links to insurgents in southeast Turkey, pushing for Syrian rebel reinforcements instead.
A local Turkish official told AFP that a group of 150 FSA fighters had entered Kobane from Turkey overnight, although a senior Syrian Kurdish official, Newaf Khalil, gave a lower figure of 50.
Khalil said they were equipped with light arms and machineguns.
“The peshmerga will arrive soon,” he said.
Kobane’s Kurdish defenders were engaged in fierce clashes with the jihadists in various areas including the town centre, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.
American warplanes carried out eight air raids near Kobane on Tuesday and Wednesday that targeted vehicles, a building and several IS fighting positions, as well as new strikes in Iraq, the US military said.
US cargo planes also parachuted aid to a beleaguered Sunni tribe in Anbar province, according to the Pentagon.
- IS assault on oil field –
The Observatory said IS jihadists had also attacked an oil and gas field held by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, killing 30 pro-regime gunmen and security guards.
IS was in control of parts of the Shaer field in Homs province, the Observatory said, adding that an unknown number of jihadists were also killed in the assault on Tuesday.
Fighting continued in the area on Wednesday, as pro-government Syrian media reported that IS had seized control of two oil wells and a hill.
IS has targeted oil and gas facilities in Iraq and Syria as it seeks funds for its fight to seize territory.
About 191,000 people have been killed since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad erupted in 2011, escalating into a brutal multi-sided civil war that brought jihadists streaming into the country.
At least 37 people, including children, were injured in a car bomb in the government-controlled neighbourhood of Al-Zahraa in the central Syrian city of Homs on Wednesday, state television reported.