MURSITPINAR, Turkey – Islamic State (ISIS) militants launched a fresh offensive inside the Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobane overnight, seizing control of a market area in the east, a monitoring group said on Thursday, after U.S.-led airstrikes appeared to have pushed the jihadists back earlier in the day.

 

 

From this Turkish border town, the sound of heavy gunfire and shelling could be heard late into the night from just across the frontier and plumes of black smoke could be seen rising from several parts of the Syrian town.

 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said ISIS fighters had advanced up to 70 meters inside the eastern edge of Kobane, capturing the al-Hal market in the town's industrial zone, after receiving military reinforcements from the outside.

 

The jihadists have laid siege to the predominantly Kurdish town for more than three weeks, capturing villages in the surrounding countryside and sending up to 200,000 refugees flooding into Turkey. On Monday, the insurgents entered Kobane for the first time after breaching Kurdish militia defence lines. 

 

The U.S. military said it had carried out eight air strikes together with Jordan on ISIS targets near Kobane on Wednesday, destroying five armed vehicles, a supply depot, command and logistics compounds, and eight occupied barracks. However, indications that the strikes had managed to stall the militants' advance appeared to be short-lived.

 

An increase in U.S.-led strikes in and around Kobane in recent days have done little to stop the advance of ISIS, who now control a large swath of territory in Syria and neighbouring Iraq. Turkey has warned Kobane could soon fall unless ground troops are sent in, although its own army stationed along the border has so far shown no sign of intervening.

 

Despite pledges not to let the town be overrun by the jihadists, Ankara's seeming ambivalence to the fate of Kobane, has caused a backlash among many of Turkey's own 15 million Kurds, who say the government is just standing by while their kinsmen are killed across the frontier.

 

Violent street riots have erupted in cities across Turkey in which at least 21 people have been killed, including 10 in Diyarbakir, known as Amed in Kurdish, the main city in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast. Night curfews not seen in Turkey for decades have been imposed in several Kurdish districts.

 

Turkey has said it could send in ground troops to Syria but only if its demands are met first, including the creation of a no-fly zone in the north of the country and assurances from allies that air strikes will also extend to Syrian regime targets. Ankara sees the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as crucial to defeating ISIS.

 

But Washington has shown little interest in Ankara's longstanding request for a no-fly zone and no longer sees ousting Assad as a top priority. U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the U.S. government believed Turkey was using excuses not to do more in the fight against ISIS and that it was urging Ankara to take a more robust role.

 

The impasse has laid bare a deep sense of mistrust among many Kurds in Turkey of their government, who they believe is actively helping ISIS, charges Ankara strongly denies. Most Kurds do not want the Turkish military to intervene directly in Kobane but instead want it to open up a supply route for weapons and fighters to the besieged town through Turkish soil.

 

But Turkey is also wary of helping the Kurds in Syria because of their links to Kurdish militants in Turkey, fearing this would embolden their calls for more autonomy. Ankara is currently engaged in tentative peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been fighting the Turkish state for three decades.

 

Kurds in Turkey enjoy more rights now than ever before and the country has witnessed relative calm over the last 18 months since the PKK's jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan, called a ceasefire. However, he warned last week that the peace process would end if Kobane was allowed to fall, a position shared by many Kurds.

 

“With Kobane, the government has opened a direct war against the Kurds. Our president, under the banner of Islam, has tricked us by offering a fake peace process. After this we will resist. There will be a return to the early 90s,” said one Kurdish man on the Turkish side of the border, referring to one of the bloodiest periods in the war between the PKK and the Turkish state.

 

More than 40,000 people have been killed, mostly Kurds, since the PKK took up arms against the state. The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

 

Meanwhile the battle inside Kobane shows no sign of abating. Ambulances with sirens wailing continued to ferry scores of injured fighters from the border to a nearby Turkish hospital on Wednesday, as friends and relatives, who had fled in the preceding weeks, waited anxiously to see whether it was their loved ones who had been brought in.

 

“My niece is over there fighting. She left university eight months ago to go and help. I come here every day to see if she has been brought in,” said one Kurdish man from Bitlis, a city around 400 km to the east. “Of course I supported her going. What else is there to do but fight?”

 

 

 

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