So-called Islamic State fighters appear to be getting close to capturing the mainly Kurdish town of Kobani along the Syrian-Turkish border after a three-week fight that has seen a desperate defense put up by lightly armed and outgunned Syrian Kurds.
Islamic State militants took a hill overlooking the battered town late Sunday and two black flags with Arabic writing were raised on the outskirts of Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab.
But on Monday Kurdish fighters claimed they had managed to repel the militants and retake the strategic ground, keeping Islamic State militants from reaching the town's center.
Ibrahim Binici, a Kurdish member of the Turkish parliament, said Monday that Islamic State fighters now control the south of the town while the Kurds are clinging on in the north.
Fighting more intense
The fighting has become increasingly vicious in recent days.
A female Kurdish fighter - a mother of two - mounted a lone attack on a group of jihadists on the east side of Kobani, hurling grenades at them before blowing herself up, according to Kurdish sources.
Jihadists have been posting online photographs of themselves holding up the heads of decapitated Kurdish women fighters.
Turkish authorities appeared to be demonstrating their belief that the town is on the verge of falling to the Islamic militants.
They instructed the press, who have been observing the unfolding battle for the past few days from the vantage point of a hill overlooking the town, to move back about 2 kilometers.
And Turkish police have been deployed in large numbers to block entrances to several Turkish villages running down to the border.
But the police were not ordering residents to leave all the villages and with their riot shields they seem more concerned to keep at bay hundreds of Kurds who have flocked from across Turkey to express their solidarity with the Kurds of Kobani and to protest Ankara’s reluctance to intervene militarily.
Warning about peace process
The jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, who has been engaged in peace talks with Ankara, warned last week from his prison cell, that he would end the peace process if Kobani falls.
PKK activists who spoke to VOA on Monday appeared eager to reignite the 30-year insurgency inside Turkey in the event Islamic State militants seize the Syrian border town.
Turkish officials say they are loathe to intervene, fearing to do so will place Turkey deeper into the conflict raging south of the border.
But in a sign the Turkish government may be rethinking its position, Turkish intelligence officials Sunday held secret talks in Ankara with Salih Muslim, the leader of the main Syrian Kurdish party, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which forms the vanguard of YPG forces, according to Hurriyet daily newspaper.
Hugh Pope of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank, warned that the fall of Kobani could trigger a mass reaction from Turkish Kurds, angry at the Turkish government’s reluctance to intervene.
“That, in turn, could derail Turkey’s ongoing peace process with the PKK,” he said.
Both sides - the jihadists and the Kurdish resistance - have posted footage of the frontlines, illustrating the desperation and grimness of the fight.
Kurdish fighters and civilians who left the encircled town over the weekend who made it to Turkey confirmed the accuracy of the footage.
The Kurdish resistance videos have been verified with officials of the Kurdish forces. Footage posted by the Islamic State group comes from jihadist sites.
From the footage, Kurdish defenders are much more lightly equipped, relying on small arms – AK47s, sniper rifles and mortars. The jihadists have larger artillery pieces and tanks, most looted during the summer from Iraqi forces fleeing an ISIL-led insurgency in neighboring Iraq. ISIL is another name for the Islamic State group.
The fighting is at close-quarters, with fighters firing off streams of bullets through holes they have punched in the walls of houses. On the outskirts of the town, moving forward into the open is a perilous mission inviting sniper retaliation.
Islamic State propaganda tends to linger on the distorted corpses of Kurdish resistance fighters, presumably to in an effort to demoralize the defenders who have access to the Turkish internet via Turkey’s mobile phone system that can be picked up in Kobani.
Focus of footage
The Kurds focus their footage less on the enemy dead than on heroic acts by the defenders and scenes portraying high group morale. Any damage they manage to inflict on the jihadists’ tanks is quickly broadcast.
Kovan Direj of the Kurdish resistance said jihadists have deployed about 70 tanks in the battle for Kobani and have the use of 50 artillery pieces of varying caliber.
Direj said the jihadists may have as many as 9,000 fighters committed to a struggle whose outcome, analysts said, could have a far-reaching impact.
YPG officials claim 86 jihadists and 17 Kurds were killed Sunday in some of the fiercest fighting in the three-week siege that came after Islamic State fighters swept through the province, capturing dozens of villages.
In most cases villagers fled their homes ahead of the arrival of jihadi fighters.
A mother of three daughters, who gave her name as Aman, said she didn’t want to see what happened when jihadist fighters arrived in her village about 15 kilometers from Kobani.
Sitting in the town square of Suruc and hoping to find somewhere to sleep, the 46-year-old said: “We have heard they are raping and enslaving Kurdish girls because they consider us infidels. I didn’t want anything to happen to mine.”