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Peshmerga, rebels move to reinforce Syria’s Kobani

By AFP - Oct 29,2014 - Last updated at Oct 29,2014

SANLIURFA, Turkey — Heavily armed Iraqi peshmerga fighters were set Wednesday to reinforce fellow Kurds defending the Syrian border town of Kobani from the Islamic State group, as anti-regime rebels also joined the battle.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels crossed from Turkey to Kobani on Wednesday, officials said, to help Kurdish militia who have faced an onslaught by IS jihadists for weeks.

The peshmerga were expected to follow after a convoy of trucks carrying fighters, machineguns, heavy artillery and rocket launchers crossed the Iraqi-Turkish border early on Wednesday.

Flashing V for victory signs, the peshmerga received a euphoric welcome from Turkish Kurds who cheered and waved Kurdish flags, an AFP photographer reported.

Another group of several dozen peshmerga was already near the border after flying in from Iraq overnight to the Turkish city of Sanliurfa.

Escorted by Turkish armoured vehicles, the group boarded buses and headed towards the border on a road that security forces closed to journalists.

“They are waiting for the land contingent to arrive, so that they will cross together depending on the situation,” a local Turkish official said.

Under heavy pressure from the United States, Turkey announced last week it would allow fighters from Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish province to cross its territory to join the fight for Kobani.

Iraqi Kurdish officials said up to 200 fighters would be sent.

The town has become an important symbol in the battle against IS, an extremist Sunni Muslim group that has seized large parts of Syria and Iraq and declared an Islamic “caliphate”.

Kobani’s Kurdish defenders have been helped by weapon drops and intensified US-led air strikes against jihadist positions in and around the town, but until now they have received little in the way of reinforcement.


‘Peshmerga will
arrive soon’ 


Turkey has been wary of giving support to the Kurdish militia force in Kobani, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which has close links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has fought a three-decade insurgency in southeast Turkey.

Ankara has instead pushed for Syrian rebel forces to help the town’s defenders, and on Wednesday a first contingent was reported to have crossed over.

The local Turkish official told AFP that a group of 150 FSA fighters had entered the town from Turkey overnight.

Senior Syrian Kurdish official Newaf Khalil confirmed the FSA fighters had arrived in Kobani but said they numbered only about 50. He said they were equipped with light arms and machine guns.

“This crossing, as with the crossing of any military group to Kobani, was done in coordination with the YPG... They are the ones who make decisions on the ground,” Khalil said.

“The peshmerga will arrive soon,” he said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said Kobani’s Kurdish defenders were engaged in fierce clashes with the jihadists in various areas including the town centre.

Coalition air strikes hit IS positions in the town’s northeast not far from the main border crossing with Turkey, said the observatory, which relies on a wide network of sources inside Syria.


IS assault on oil field


The observatory said IS jihadists had also attacked an oil and gas field held by President Bashar Al Assad’s regime, killing 30 pro-regime gunmen and security guards.

IS was in control of parts of the Shaer field in Homs province, the observatory said, adding that an unknown number of jihadists were also killed in the assault on Tuesday.

Fighting continued in the area on Wednesday, as pro-government Syrian media reported that IS had seized control of two oil wells and a hill.

IS has targeted oil and gas facilities in Iraq and Syria as it seeks funds for its fight to seize territory.

Washington has forged an alliance of Western and Arab nations to battle IS and the coalition has carried out a barrage of air strikes on the group in Iraq and Syria.

The Pentagon said Tuesday that US cargo planes had also parachuted aid to a beleaguered Sunni tribe in western Iraq’s Anbar province.

American C-130 aircraft carried out an air drop of food near Al-Asad air base early on Monday at the request of the Baghdad government, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters.

Dropping humanitarian aid by air to Anbar province underscored the Iraqi government’s difficulties in the west of the country and suggested Baghdad troops were not able to move safely over roads in the area.

The IS militants have been pushing back Iraqi forces in the west over the past month, but the Pentagon said Iraqi troops had made gains elsewhere in Iraq over the previous 36 hours.

In central Iraq, north of Baghdad, Iraqi forces had expanded control of territory near the Baiji oil refinery and were “making progress”, Kirby said.

Iraqi forces also had advanced against IS militants west of Baghdad, said Kirby, without providing more details.

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