Battle for Kobane: Turkey pressed to let weapons through to Kurdish fighters

With US-led airstrikes having a limited impact on the Islamic State siege of Kobane, Turkey is being urged to open its borders to let weapons through to the increasingly overwhelmed Kurdish fighters.

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
A Turkish Kurd watches the fighting between Islamic State militants and Kurdish forces in Kobane, Syria, rage on from the Turkey side of the border on Sunday.

Militants with the self-described Islamic State pressed deeper into Kobane over the weekend, as calls intensified for Turkey to help the Kurdish fighters defending the Syrian border town.

With US-led airstrikes appearing to have limited impact on the IS siege, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, has called on Turkey to open its borders to let weapons through to the Kurdish fighters. It says the forces in Kobane face inevitable defeat if Turkey fails to do so soon.

Rami Abdelrahman, head of the monitoring group, told Reuters that IS "is getting supplies and men, while Turkey is preventing Kobane from getting ammunition."

"Even with the resistance, if things stay like this, the Kurdish forces will be like a car without fuel," he said. 

The United Nations envoy to Syria has also called on Turkey to let volunteer fighters cross the border to reinforce the Kurdish forces, warning of a massacre if the city falls.

But so far Turkey has been reluctant to help those defending Kobane. It opposes the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish region on its own territory and considers the pro-autonomy Kurdistan Workers' Party, PKK, who are allies of the Syrian Kurdish fighters, to be a terrorist organization. On Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan expressed his frustration with the growing international pressure on his country to do more to help the Kurds, according to Turkish media.

The United States, meanwhile, is working with Turkey on plans to help train and equip moderate Syrian opposition fighters, the BBC reports. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the US had made "considerable progress" in talks with Turkish officials. He said a team of US military officials was scheduled to travel to Turkey this week for more discussions.  

The US-led coalition expanded its airstrikes against IS in and around Kobane last week. But observers and Kurdish officials said escalating street-to-street, guerrilla-style fighting made it harder for planes to target the group's positions.

"We have a problem, which is the war between houses," Esmat al-Sheikh, head of the Kobane defense council, told Reuters.

Al Jazeera reports that Kurdish fighters thwarted an IS attempt to storm the center of town on Saturday. The Kurdish People's Protection Unit (YPG) told Al Jazeera that fighting was still raging in the eastern and southern parts of Kobane.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated that more than 500 people have been killed since the siege on the town started in mid-September. It counted 298 IS causalities. 

Some 200,000 mostly Kurdish Syrian refugees have crossed the border into Turkey since the fighting began. But hundreds of civilians remain trapped inside Kobane, the Guardian reports:

Two of them begged for a rescue mission in phone calls yesterday, as the battles raged through a powerful sandstorm that shrouded the city from journalists and anxious refugees who have been watching the fighting from the safety of Turkish soil, just a few hundred feet away.

"There is a terrible smell from bodies in the street. At first I didn't know what it was," said Welat Shaheen, a farmer who stayed in his home at the edge of the city when the rest of the family fled. "There are bombs and fighting all around, so no one really goes out."

The 31-year-old is surviving on bulgar wheat and other dried food, eking out a tank of water stored up before the siege began. "I can't wash myself, or wash dishes; it's just for cooking and drinking. Please can someone come and get us out. If my water runs out, I will die."

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