Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters bound for the battleground Syrian town of Kobane where they will confront Islamic State militants arrived in Turkey on Wednesday and headed for the border, according to Turkish officials.
Turkey, under heavy pressure from the United States, announced last week it would allow some 150 fighters from Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish province to cross its territory to join the fight for Kobane.
One group, which flew in from an Iraqi air base, arrived in southeast Sanliurfa early Wednesday and boarded three buses bound for the Turkey-Syria border, a journey of some 50 kilometres.
They were escorted by four Turkish armoured cars and a police vehicle. Turkish security forces then closed off the road to the border, preventing the many gathered journalists from following the convoy.
Another Peshmerga contingent travelled across the land border in some 40 vehicles also carrying heavy weaponry. They were met at the Habur border crossing into southeast Turkey by hundreds of Kurds lining the route and waving Kurdish flags.
The main Syrian Kurdish fighting force in Kobane, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), has close links with the outlawed rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has fought a three-decade insurgency in southeast Turkey.
Kurdish defenders have been holding out against an IS offensive for weeks in Kobane, and the town has become an important symbol in the international battle against IS.
The fighting continued on Tuesday, an AFP correspondent at Mursitpinar across the border in Turkey said, with black smoke rising over the town as the militants set alight tyres in a bid to prevent air strikes.
IS video shows ‘depravity’
The US-led coalition waging an air campaign against IS has pounded militant positions in Kobane in recent days in a bid to prevent the town’s fall.
The US military said four more raids had hit IS near Kobane on Monday and Tuesday, along with nine raids on the group in Iraq. At least nine militants were killed by Kurdish fighters on Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Pentagon meanwhile said a recently released Islamic State propaganda video featuring a British hostage playing the role of a field reporter in a disputed Syrian town shows the “depravity” of the Islamic State group.
The US military is assessing the video’s authenticity but has no reason to suspect it is fake, spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday.
They’ve taken a hostage, a man they’ve taken captive, and obviously forcing this individual to do this video. It’s just another example of their depravity.”
The militants seized large parts of Syria and Iraq this summer, declaring an Islamic “caliphate” and committing widespread atrocities.
The group’s growing power and influence has raised global concerns but Washington and its allies have so far refused to commit to deploying ground forces in the campaign.
Ankara has urged the global community to combine the fight against IS with wider support for the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Turkey is fearful Kobane could be taken over by Kurds allied to the PKK which is regarded as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and most of Europe.
The uprising against Assad has raged for more than three-and-a-half years, leaving more than 180,000 dead and forcing some three million Syrians to flee the country.
Aid for refugee hosts
An international conference in Berlin vowed Tuesday to extend long-term financial aid to countries struggling with the refugees in what the UN calls the world’s “most dramatic humanitarian crisis”.
Around 40 countries and international bodies adopted a declaration saying donors would “mobilise for years to come” increased development support to help nations like Lebanon and Jordan shoulder the impact of millions of Syrian refugees.
Germany said it was budgeting $637 million for 2015-2017 to help the refugees, and the US announced $10 million in additional humanitarian assistance for host communities in the region.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said the impact on neighbouring nations of the flood of Syrians fleeing the conflict in their homeland was “enormous”.
“Economics, public services, the social fabric of communities and the welfare of families are all affected, not to mention the security impact of the Syrian conflict in the whole region,” he said.