Syrian Kurds give women grenades in last-ditch defense against Islamic State

Islamic State forces are trying to oust the Kurdish defenders of Kobane, a Syrian town on the border with Turkey. News agencies have posted photographs showing the militants apparently raising their flag in the town, which Turkey had vowed to defend. 

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
Smoke rises after a shell lands in Kobane in Syria as fighting intensifies between Syrian Kurds and the militants of Islamic State group, as seen from the outskirts of Suruc, at the Turkey-Syria border, Monday, Oct. 6, 2014. Kobane, also known as Ayn Arab and its surrounding areas have been under attack since mid-September, with militants capturing dozens of nearby Kurdish villages.

Fighting around Kobane is turning increasingly desperate, as the forces of the self-declared Islamic State threaten to overrun the Syrian border town's Kurdish defenders.

Syrian Kurdish official Idris Nahsen told Agence France-Presse that IS forces are within a kilometer of the town to the south, but their latest attempt to advance had been repulsed by Kurdish forces. Although airstrikes by US-led coalition forces had helped slow the IS advance on Saturday, Mr. Nahsen said airstrikes alone would not be enough to break the siege on Kobane.

NBC News reports that the situation is becoming desperate in Kobane, where civilians of all ages are being recruited to help with the town's defense.

"Everybody is fighting in Kobani. There are women my age who have been given hand grenades to throw," said 63-year-old Alife Ali, as she waited in the hospital, a small child in her arms. "Our people dug a [16 feet] deep and wide ditch around the town to protect it. We will fight to the last person." Hassan waited anxiously outside a room for a 20-year-old female relative, wounded in the fighting. "She took up arms," he said. "They gave her a gun though she had no experience." His mother, sitting next to him, said of ISIS: "God curse them. They are worse than monsters. Look at what they did to our people."

According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a female suicide bomber was among those who engaged IS forces, killing herself at an IS post on Sunday. The Observatory told AFP that is was the first time that such a tactic has been used by Kurdish fighters against the Islamic militants. Nahsen confirmed to AFP that the bombing had taken place, though he did not say whether it would be repeated. "I don't know. It is related to the situation. We don't have this strategy," he said.

The BBC reports that the Kurds in Kobane are angry that they have yet to receive help from Turkey, which promised last week that it would prevent the town from falling to the IS advance. Turkey has yet to act beyond patrolling the border, however. Turkish forces did deploy tear gas Monday against crowds of observers and reporters who had gathered along the border. The BBC's Paul Adams reports that one of the gas canisters shattered their vehicle's rear windshield and set the van on fire briefly.

The Christian Science Monitor reported last week that Turkey's apparent reluctance to act may stem from fears of fueling a resurgence of Kurdish separatism, which it has long tried to suppress. The Monitor notes that the Turkish government has been negotiating a peace deal with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an outlawed Kurdish militant group, but that deal is now in jeopardy. 

In return for expanded freedoms, the government wants the PKK to lay down its arms. But the strife in Kobane could put those talks at risk. Last week Murat Karayilan, a high-ranking commander in the PKK, told a Kurdish TV station that peace negotiations with the Turkish government were "finished."

“The cease-fire and the peace process is in a very fragile situation,” Ertugrul Kurkcu, a member of Parliament for the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, the political affiliate of the PKK, tells The Christian Science Monitor.

“The state of the cease-fire is not only determined by the situation in Turkey, but the situation in the entire Kurdish nation,” Mr. Kurkcu says, alluding to the Kurdish-populated region of Syria, referred to by Kurds as Rojava.

Cenk Sidar, CEO of Sidar Global Partners, a Turkey-focused political and strategic risk consultancy firm, told the Monitor that “The perception that the Turks weren’t quickly willing to help the Kurds in Kobane has created a trauma in Kurdish minds and it will be very hard to restore trust.” If Kobane falls to IS forces, Mr. Sidar said, "The peace process will be over."

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