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Kurds hold out in Syria’s Kobane one month into IS assault

THE LEVANT – Kurdish forces held out in Kobane on Thursday as a jihadist offensive entered its second month, but the Pentagon warned US-led air strikes may not prevent the Syrian border town’s fall.

Kurdish fighters backed by a flurry of US-led air strikes were holding out Thursday against jihadists in Kobane, as an Islamic State offensive on the Syrian border town entered its second month.

The Kurds claimed to have pushed IS back in parts of Kobane, but the Pentagon warned the multinational strikes may not prevent the town’s fall even though hundreds of jihadists are thought to have been killed.

Mortar and heavy machinegun fire rang out later as IS appeared to have relaunched its bid to cut the town off from the Turkish border, said an AFP correspondent across the frontier.

Despite intensified strikes on Kobane this week by the United States and its Arab allies, the Kurds are calling for increased firepower in the battle for the strategic town.

“We need more air strikes, as well as weaponry and ammunition to fight them on the ground,” said Idris Nassen, a Kurdish official in Kobane.

An estimated 200,000 mainly Kurdish Syrians have fled the IS onslaught for the relative safety of Turkey.

A grocer who had escaped to Turkey from Kobane offered insight Thursday into those fighting for IS, saying that one they had captured, an Azerbaijani in his 20s, had even asked to be killed.

“He begged us to kill him so he could go to paradise and be rewarded,” said Cuneyt Hemo, adding that the jihadist was held for a day and ultimately shot dead by his captors.

IS is also battling to control other parts of Syria, including Hasakeh province, where Kurdish fighters killed 20 jihadists Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Hundreds dead

Kurdish forces have suffered heavy losses since IS launched its offensive on the Kurdish enclave around Kobane in mid-September, but so too have the jihadists.

As of Wednesday, ground clashes alone had killed 662 people since September 16, including 20 civilians, the Observatory said.

IS lost 374 of its militants, while 268 people have been killed fighting on the Kurdish side, according to the Britain-based monitor, which has a wide network of sources inside Syria.

In its latest update, US Central Command said American warplanes struck 14 times near Kobane on Wednesday and Thursday, including “successful” raids on 19 IS-held buildings and two command posts.

American-led forces have now carried out more than 100 air strikes near Kobane since September 27.

The Pentagon said the raids had killed “several hundred” jihadist fighters.

US military officials say Kobane may eventually fall but insist the town is not a “strategic” location and that other areas carry more importance, particularly in western Iraq and the suburbs of Baghdad.

But they privately acknowledge that intense media coverage, with television cameras across the border in Turkey relaying footage of smoke rising from the town, have turned Kobane into an important symbol.

NATO member Turkey has stationed troops, tanks and artillery just over the border — in some cases only a few hundred metres (yards) from the fighting — but has not intervened. It has yet to allow US jets to mount attacks from its territory.

President Barack Obama told military chiefs from more than 20 allies this week they are facing a “long-term campaign” — now dubbed Operation Inherent Resolve — against the Islamic State group.

Obama has expressed special concern for Kobane and about halting the IS advance in Iraq’s western Anbar province.

The jihadists have also been blamed for a spate of violence to have hit Baghdad, and on Thursday car bomb blasts, including a suicide attack, killed at least 16 people in two Shiite neighbourhoods of the capital, officials said.

‘Antithesis of human rights’

IS in June declared a “caliphate” straddling areas it seized in Iraq and Syria, and has committed widespread atrocities, including mass executions, the beheading of Westerners and forcing women into slavery.

The new UN human rights chief told his first press briefing on Thursday that IS was the “antithesis of human rights”.

“It kills, it tortures, it rapes,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

“It is a diabolical, potentially genocidal movement, and the way it has spread its tentacles into other countries, employing social media and the Internet to brainwash and recruit people from across the globe, reveals it to be the product of a perverse and lethal marriage of a new form of nihilism with the digital age.”

Hussein also promised an updated UN assessment of the death toll in the more than three-year-old conflict in Syria, saying it would certainly be well over 200,000.

Six children were among 14 people killed Thursday in air raids carried out by the Syrian regime in Jisrin, east of Damascus, and along the highway linking the capital to the northern city of Aleppo, said the Observatory.

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