Jihadists face fightback over Syria border town
Intensified US-led air strikes helped drive back jihadists fighting for a strategic Syrian border town Wednesday as deadly pro-Kurdish protests over the fate of its residents shook neighbouring Turkey.
With pressure growing for international action to halt the advance of the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, France threw its weight behind calls for a buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish frontier.
The town of Kobane has become a symbol of resistance against IS militants who have proclaimed an Islamic "caliphate" across swathes of Iraq and Syria, committing beheadings and other atrocities.
Demonstrations erupted in Turkey over Ankara's lack of action in support of Kobane's predominantly Kurdish residents, triggering clashes in which at least 18 people were killed.
For the first time in more than two decades, a curfew was declared in six Turkish provinces after the unrest, which was mainly in the Kurdish southeast but also in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities.
In Germany, police used batons, pepper spray and water cannon as Kurds and Yazidis clashed with radical Muslims in two northern cities in violence that left at least 23 wounded.
The three-week assault by IS on Kobane has sent about 200,000 people flooding across the border into Turkey, but some residents said hundreds more remained two days after jihadists breached the town's defences.
"There are 1,000 civilians who refuse to leave," said Kobane activist Mustafa Ebdi.
"One of them, aged 65, said to me: "Where would we go? Dying here is better than dying on the road'."
- Plea for weapons -
US and coalition aircraft kept up bombing raids on IS jihadists near the town, launching six attacks to help Kurdish fighters on Wednesday, the US military said.
The strikes destroyed an armoured personnel carrier, artillery and several vehicles, Central Command said in a statement.
The sounds of heavy gunfire and mortar shells could be heard from the Turkish side of the border, according to an AFP reporter, as fierce street battles raged inside Kobane.
"The raids helped prevent the fall of the town, but what is needed now is weapons," said Ebdi.
An IS fighter carried out a suicide truck bombing in an industrial district in the east of Kobane Wednesday but there was no immediate news of casualties, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), with the help of the US-led coalition air strikes, were reported to have driven IS fighters out of several neighbourhoods in heavy fighting.
"The situation has changed," said Kobane official Idris Nahsen. "YPG forces have pushed back IS forces."
According to the Observatory, about 400 people, more than half of them jihadists, have been killed in and around Kobane since IS began its assault in mid-September.
- Turkish balancing act -
Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, would be a major prize for the jihadists, giving them unbroken control of a long stretch of Syria's border with Turkey.
France said Wednesday it supported a proposal by Ankara to create a safe zone along its frontier with Syria to ensure security and to host fleeing refugees.
Ankara has come under increasing pressure to act in Kobane but its response has been complicated by concerns over emboldening Kurdish separatists, who have waged a deadly insurgency in Turkey for the past three decades.
Turkey has detained dozens of Kurds who crossed the border from Kobane on suspicion of having links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), officials said Wednesday.
The United States along with Arab, European and other allies have launched nearly 2,000 air raids against jihadists in Iraq and Syria.
US President Barack Obama was due to meet military chiefs later Wednesday to discuss the coalition battle.
In Iraq on Wednesday, a military helicopter crashed near a major oil refinery that is a frequent target for IS militants, killing the crew, a senior officer said.
There was no immediate confirmation about the cause of the crash near Baiji, around 200 kilometres (120 miles) north of Baghdad, but residents reported it was downed by jihadists.
In the Syrian city of Homs, at least eight people, including three children, were killed in government shelling of its last rebel-held district, the Observatory said.
More than 180,000 people have been killed in Syria since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime began in 2011, morphing into a several-sided civil war that has drawn thousands of jihadists from overseas.
© 2014 AFP