MURSITPINAR, Turkey: Islamic State (IS) fighters were at the gates on Thursday of a key Kurdish town on the Syrian border with Turkey, whose parliament was set to vote on authorizing military intervention against the jihadists.
Kurdish militiamen backed by US-led air strikes were locked in fierce fighting to prevent the besieged border town of Kobane from falling to IS group fighters.
Heavy mortar fire around the town was heard across the Turkish border, an Agence France-Presse correspondent reported.
“There are real fears that the IS may be able to advance into the town of Kobane itself very soon,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights warned.
The Britain-based watchdog reported fresh US-led air strikes on the advancing jihadists overnight after the heavily outgunned Kurdish fighters were forced to fall back west and southeast of the town, also known as Ain al-Arab.
The strikes in Syria by the United States and Arab allies, now in their 10th day, come as European allies step up their support for the air campaign Washington launched against IS in neighboring Iraq on August 8.
The US-led coalition had already carried out at least seven strikes on IS targets around Kobane over the five days to Wednesday, US Central Command said.
A Kurdish official inside Kobane acknowledged that the better armed IS fighters had advanced during the night.
“They are closer, two to three kilometers [less than two miles]in some places,” Idris Nahsen told Agence France-Presse by telephone.
“Compared to IS, our weaponry is simple. They have cannons, long-range rockets and tanks,” he added.
IS seized large stocks of heavy weaponry from fleeing troops when they captured Iraq’s second city of Mosul in June. They took more when they overran the Syrian garrison at Tabqa air base south of Kobane in late August.
As the jihadists neared the outskirts of Kobane, there was a quickening of the exodus of civilians which had already seen tens of thousands take refuge across the border in Turkey.
“Kobane is practically empty of its residents now,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told Agence France-Presse.
Kobane would be a major prize for IS, giving it unbroken control of a long stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border.
But its fall would be a big blow to Kurdish dreams of self-rule and jailed Turkish Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan warned that it would have implications across the border.
In a message to supporters, the Kurdistan Workers Party leader said it could spell the collapse of the peace process under way since last year to end the group’s three-decade insurgency in southeastern Turkey.
After months of caution, the Turkish government has decided to harden its policy towards IS, with parliament due to vote later Thursday on a request for authorization for military action against the jihadists in both Iraq and Syria.