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Syria Kurds weather IS assault as they await reinforcements

THE LEVANT – Kurdish defenders of the strategic Syrian border town of Kobane awaited reinforcements Tuesday after weathering another onslaught by Islamic State jihadists.

Iraqi Kurdish lawmakers agreed to send much-needed reinforcements to fellow Kurds battling to stop the key Syrian border town of Kobane from falling into the hands of the Islamic State group.

The approval came as Turkey criticised US air drops of ammunition and weapons to Kobane’s Kurdish defenders, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying some of the deliveries had fallen into the wrong hands.

Backed by air strikes from a US-led coalition, Kurdish militia have been defending Kobane against a fierce IS offensive for more than a month.

The town on the Turkish border has become a crucial battleground in the fight against IS, an extremist Sunni Muslim group that has seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq.

Turkey said this week it would allow Iraqi Kurd peshmerga fighters to travel to relieve Kobane’s defenders, and the Iraqi region’s parliament approved the move Wednesday.

“The Kurdistan parliament decided to send forces to Kobane with the aim of supporting the fighters there and protecting Kobane,” speaker Yusef Mohammed Sadeq said.

Mustafa Qader, responsible for the peshmerga, said a decision would be made in the coming days about the number to be sent.

He did not say when the forces would arrive in Syria, but did say “they will remain there until they are no longer needed”.

Iraqi Kurdistan has its own borders, government and security forces, which have played a leading role in northern Iraq in combatting IS.

Air drops in ‘wrong’ hands 

After initially losing ground, the Kobane Kurds have fought back hard, with the US military saying they had halted the IS advance and held most of the town.

They got a boost this week by the first US air drop of weapons and other supplies.

But the Pentagon confirmed reports that one of 28 bundles had drifted off course and was likely in the hands of IS forces after another one had missed and was destroyed by an air strike.

Earlier, an IS video showed a masked fighter opening wooden boxes filled with rockets and grenades.

Erdogan said some of the weapons had ended up with IS jihadists and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) — a Syrian Kurdish group Ankara does not support.

Ankara sees the PYD as the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) whose three-decade battle for self-rule in Turkey has left 40,000 people dead.

“Some of the air drops have fallen into the hands of the PYD and ISIS,” he said, using a different name for IS. “It’s impossible to achieve results with such an operation.”

Fighting continued in Kobane, with at least six US-led air strikes reported to have hit IS positions.

An AFP reporter across the border said heavy fighting broke out in the early evening in parts of the city, in what appeared to be a new IS offensive.

Most of the coalition raids have focused on Iraq, and Washington said a dozen air strikes had helped fend off an IS assault on the country’s strategic Mosul dam.

“There was an offensive action by the enemy in the vicinity of Mosul dam, a combination of US air strikes and Iraqi forces were able to repel that,” said a Pentagon spokesman.

Syria destroys ‘IS warplanes’ 

Meanwhile, Syria claimed to have destroyed two of three jet fighters reportedly seized by IS fighters.

The jihadists were reported to have taken the MiG-21s and MiG-23s from military airports now under IS control in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Raqa.

They “were flying three old planes but our aircraft immediately took off and destroyed two of them as they were landing. The third plane was hidden” by the jihadists, Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said, quoted by state media.

Zohbi downplayed the threat from the remaining plane, saying it was “unusable” and that Syrian forces would eventually destroy it.

The US has formed a coalition of Western and Arab allies to battle IS, which has been accused of widespread atrocities including mass executions, beheadings, rape, torture and selling women and children into slavery.

On Wednesday, John Allen, who is coordinating the US-led campaign against the jihadist group, said Britain could join the United States “shoulder to shoulder” in operations against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

Speaking after meeting the British foreign secretary, he told the BBC programme “we were shoulder to shoulder in Iraq, we were shoulder to shoulder in Afghanistan”.

Asked whether this meant that Britain would be involved in Syria as well as Iraq, Allen said “Well they will support us I think in the strategy… that’s a conversation we’re having right now.”

IS has lured thousands of foreigners to its ranks and has a following among many disaffected Muslims, raisings fears of attacks in Western countries.

The Canadian parliament was locked down Wednesday after a gunman who shot and fatally wounded a soldier guarding a nearby war memorial ran inside and was subsequently shot dead by police.

There was no immediate indication of his motive, but Canada had raised its national security alert Tuesday after a soldier run over the previous day by a suspected jihadist sympathiser died.

Following the Ottawa shooting, US and Canadian air defences were put on heightened alert and the American embassy in Ottawa was locked down.

And in Baghdad, two car bombs killed at least 28 people and wounded 66.

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