Δευτέρα, 6 Οκτωβρίου 2014

The heroes of Kobani - the Kurds fighting ISIS

By Daren Butler and Mariam Karouny
Kurds Vow To Fight To The Last As Islamic State Tightens Grip On Syrian Town


Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobani, seen from near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc, Oct. 3, 2014. (photo by REUTERS/Murad Sezer)


(Reuters) - Outgunned Kurdish fighters vowed on Monday not to abandon their increasingly desperate efforts to defend the Syrian border town of Kobani from Islamic State militants pressing in from three sides and pounding them with heavy artillery.

The radical Al Qaeda offshoot has been battling for more than two weeks to seize the predominantly Kurdish town, driving 180,000 people into neighboring Turkey.

Air strikes by American and Gulf state warplanes have failed to halt the advance of the Islamists, who moved to the outskirts of the town over the weekend and were battling to secure a strategic hilltop in the face of fierce resistance.

Despite the heavy fighting, which has seen mortars rain down on residential areas in Kobani and stray fire hit Turkish territory, a Reuters reporter saw around 30 people cross over from Turkey, apparently to help with defense of the town.

"Fighting continues, they are also firing mortars at the heart of the town. We have light weapons only," Esmat al-Sheikh, head of the Kobani Defence Authority, said by telephone.

"If they enter Kobani, it will be a graveyard for us and for them. We will not let them enter Kobani as long as we live. We either win or die. We will resist to the end," Sheikh said as heavy and light weapons fire echoed from the eastern side of town.

Ismail Eskin, a journalist in the town, said morale was still high "because the people are protecting their own soil".

"They will not allow (Islamic State) to occupy Kobani," he said.



VILLAGES EMPTIED

Islamic State wants to take Kobani to consolidate a dramatic sweep across northern Iraq and Syria, in the name of an absolutist version of Sunni Islam, that has sent shock waves through the Middle East.

Beheadings, mass killings and torture have spread fear of the group across the region, with villages emptying at the approach of pick-up trucks flying Islamic State's black flag.

One female Kurdish fighter near Kobani blew herself up on Sunday after running out of ammunition, rather than be captured by IS, a monitoring group and local sources said.

"They have ammunition, but it is so little," said Pawer Mohammed Ali, a translator for the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) inside Kobani. "The PYD are just appealing to foreign forces for ammunition because (Islamic State) is using heavy weapons, tanks and mortars."

On Sunday, Islamic State released a video apparently showing its fighters in control of radio masts on top of Mistanour hill, which looks out over the town and would offer valuable high ground. Reuters was not able to independently verify the contents of the video.

Ali said fighting for control of Mistanour hill was continuing, and denied reports that IS fighters were in the streets of Kobani. He said Kurdish forces were holding them back but the situation in the town, where water and power had been cut off, was increasingly desperate.

Turkish hospitals have been treating a steady stream of wounded Kurdish fighters being brought across the frontier. Witnesses who had fled Kobani said that old women were being given grenades to throw, and young women with no fighting experience were being armed and sent into battle.



LITTLE HELP

Kobani's Kurds have so far received little help from elsewhere. Turkey has given shelter to the bulk of the area's refugees, and its doctors have treated the wounded, but it has given no suggestion that it could join the fight against Islamic State, beyond gestures of self-defense.

Over the weekend, President Tayyip Erdogan vowed to retaliate if Islamic State attacked Turkish forces, and on Monday Turkish tanks deployed along the border for the second time in a week, some with guns pointing towards Syria, apparently in response to stray fire crossing the frontier.

Still, Islamic State's release last month of 46 Turkish hostages, and a parliamentary motion last week renewing a mandate allowing Turkish troops to cross into Syria and Iraq, have raised expectations that Ankara may be planning a more active role.

Its calculations are complex, however.

For three decades, Ankara has fought an armed insurgency by its own Kurdish PKK militants demanding greater autonomy in Turkey's southeast.

Analysts say it is now wary of helping Syrian Kurdish forces near Kobani as they have strong links with the PKK and have maintained ambiguous relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to whom Turkey is implacably opposed.

Against that are warnings from the leaders of Turkey's Kurds that allowing Syria's Kurds to be driven from Kobani would spell the end of Erdogan's delicately poised drive to negotiate an end to his own Kurdish insurgency and permanently disarm the PKK.

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