The Turkish parliament approved a motion on Thursday enabling the government to authorize cross-border military incursions into Iraq and Syria to battle Islamic State militants.
The resolution, which also allows foreign soldiers to be stationed in Turkey and use its military bases for the same purposes, passed overwhelmingly, by a margin of 298 votes to 98.
Its approval is a legal requirement for any foreign military intervention by Turkish forces.
Ankara has come under pressure to play a more robust role in the U.S.-led military campaign against Islamic State fighters after the insurgents advanced to within clear sight of Turkish military positions on the Syrian border.
Washington is reportedly pressing Ankara to allow use of the large military airbase of Incirlik close to the Syrian border.
An additional factor is the more than 160,000 refugees that have crossed into Turkey from the besieged northern Syrian town of Kobani since an IS offensive began in mid-September.
Turkey was already home to more than 1 million Syrians who fled the civil war in their country.
Turkey's main parliamentary opposition group, the Republican People's Party, opposed the motion. Deputy Faruk Logoglu warned Turkey was in danger of being sucked into the regional conflict.
"This motion is the result of an adventurous foreign policy. And we should all vote against it,” he said.
Public opinion polls show such concerns are shared by a majority of Turks.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has insisted any intervention would be carried out only in Turkey’s interests. And the country's defense minister said It is unlikely Turkey will take any immediate military action.
Kobani attack continues
Meanwhile, Kobani's defense chief said a "large-scale massacre" by Islamic State militants is imminent without international aid.
Ismet Sheikh Hasan told VOA that Kurdish fighters defending the area feel abandoned by U.S.-led coalition forces, despite nearby airstrikes in recent days.
"It is only a matter of time before the [Islamic State group] enters the city and commits a large-scale massacre against the people. The U.S. and coalition [forces] need to strike IS targets before it is too late," said Hasan, who oversees defense for Kobani, which is also known as Ain al-Arab.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday militants were within hundreds of meters of entering the town along the border with Turkey.
Bolstered by coalition airstrikes and Iraqi military support, Kurdish fighters advanced on some IS positions in Iraq this week, reclaiming the Rabia border crossing on the Syrian frontier.
In a statement released Thursday, Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK, warned if a massacre occurred in Kobani, it would mean an end to the current peace process.
Iraqi town overrun
Elsewhere, Islamic State-led insurgents took control of most of the western Iraqi town of Hit in Anbar province early Thursday, security sources and local officials said.
The ultra-radical Sunni Muslim militants have captured vast swaths of western and northern Iraq, including the north's biggest city Mosul in June, as well as large areas of the east and north of neighboring Syria.
The fall of Hit exposes the Ain al-Asad military base in the nearby town of al-Baghdadi to attack.
Iraqi government forces suffered big losses after insurgents laid siege to other military camps in recent months.
“Ninety percent of Hit has been overrun by militants,” said Adnan al-Fahdawi, an Anbar provincial council member, adding that the attackers were better armed than local security forces.
An eyewitness speaking from Hit told Reuters: “Scores of militants can be seen in the town with their vehicles and weapons, I can hear shooting now everywhere.”
The U.S. State Department announced Thursday that General John Allen, the U.S. envoy for the anti-Islamic State coalition, had arrived in Iraq to meet with government officials about the ongoing efforts to battle the militant group.
Allen will then travel to Belgium, Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey, as the United States continues to rally support for its air campaign in Iraq and Syria.
Dorian Jones contributed to this report from Istanbul. Some material came from Reuters.