10/08/2014, 00.00
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As airstrikes fail to stop Jihadist push in Kobane, ground operation appears necessary

As street fighting rages, Kurdish fighters and militias of the Islamic State battle for control of the city. Ankara is playing hard to get, using its intervention as a bargaining chip for support for anti-Assad rebels. Iran claims airstrikes are designed to topple the Syrian regime. In Turkey 14 Kurdish protesters die.

Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Kobane, a Syrian city on the border with Turkey, is teetering on the brink, caught between US-Arab coalition airstrikes and Islamic State (IS) forces making a final push to take it.

Yesterday, Jihadists moved into three neighbourhoods and were poised to seize the strategically important city's centre. A spokesperson for the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) said that airstrikes "slowed their advance".

Three weeks of street fighting in Kobane has left some 400 people dead. About 180,000 residents have fled the city, seeking refuge across the border in Turkey.

Analysts and military experts warn that air strikes alone may not be enough to stop IS from taking Kobane. Although the YPG claim to have the upper hand in street fighting, it is outnumbered and outgunned by IS.

Only an extensive ground operation, with Turkey's active participation, could guarantee success and push back the advance of Islamic state. However, at present this seems unlikely.

Still, the US administration and Turkey's Kurdish minority are increasingly dissatisfied and impatience with Turkey's inaction.

Yesterday protests broke out in several cities in southern Turkey as sympathisers of the Kurdistan People's Party (PKK) clashed with police forces deployed to defend government buildings. At least 14 people died in the violence.

Demonstrations in support of Kobane Kurds also took place in several European cities. In Brussels, one hundred people stormed the European Parliament.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warns that air power alone cannot defeat IS. "We had warned the West. We wanted three things: no-fly zone, a secure zone parallel to that, and the training of moderate Syrian rebels."

The latter is a reference to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which has been involved in a bloody fight against the army of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Ankara is willing to engage in "ground operations" against the Islamic State as well as the Assad regime, already on Turkey's enemy list.

However, for Turkey helping Kurdish fighters in Syria could backfire, and boost Kurdish separatism in the country's south.

This explains why Turkish authorities have tried to lump together the Islamic State and PKK fighters, and label both as terrorist.

This has provoked Iran, which unlike the West supports President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Tehran criticised the "passivity of the international community" vis-à-vis the "terrorists" who threaten the legitimate Syrian government. It also suspects that the Assad regime is the real goal of coalition bombing.

Kobane's fall would give Islamists control over a long strip of land along the border between Syria and Turkey. As fierce street battles rages on, Kurds are throwing everything they have into the defence of the city.

"There are hundreds of sisters, brothers, fathers and sons who are fighting side by side," a local source said, against the Islamic State. For Kurds, "It is a matter of life and death."

Meanwhile, with international media and Western governments focused on the Syria-Turkey border, Jihadists continue to threaten other parts of the Middle East.

Analysts warn that zooming in only on Kobane could give Jihadists a chance to seize other places, including Baghdad, whose outskirts and airport have already come under attack.

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See also
Jihadist flag removed in Kobane after Kurdish counter-offensive against Islamic state
Ankara to allow Iraqi Kurds to cross to fight Islamic state
Washington asking a reluctant Turkey to do "more" against the Islamic state
Pope talks about the Middle East, the Holy Land and the food crisis with Bush
Kurdish peshmerga arrive in Turkey to fight in Kobane


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