MURSITPINA, October 9- Advancing Islamic State fighters seized control of a third of the Syrian border town of Kobane Thursday, as Turkey rejected sending in troops on its own against the jihadists.,
Despite intensified US led air strikes, IS militants captured more ground in overnight fighting that left dozens dead, as calls grew for ground action to support Kobane’s beleaguered Kurdish defenders.
But after talks with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara could not be expected to act alone.
“It’s not realistic to expect that Turkey will lead a ground operation on its own,” he said.
Ankara has come under pressure over its inaction as the jihadists advance on its doorstep, with protests in Kurdish areas in Turkey sparking clashes that claimed at least 22 lives and forced authorities to declare a curfew in six provinces.
Kobane, where Kurdish militia have been holding out against a three week siege by the jihadists, has become a crucial battleground in the fight against IS.
With tens of thousands of refugees, local residents and the global media gathered just across the border in Turkey, its conquest would be a highly visible symbolic victory for the extremists.
The US led coalition carried out at least four fresh strikes early Thursday, an AFP reporter across the border in Turkey said, as it continued a flurry of bombing raids on IS positions in and around the town.
At least 20 coalition bombing raids have hit near Kobane since Tuesday.
“Air strikes are not helpful alone. We need heavy weaponry and tanks to support a ground operation,” 37 year old Azad, a refugee from Kobane, told AFP on the border.
“If weapons are sent, civilians would also join Kurdish fighters to defend the town,” he added.
– ‘Fierce resistance’ –
Street battles have been raging in Kobane since the jihadists breached its defences earlier this week.
IS fighters pulled out of some areas on Wednesday but have since renewed their offensive and seized more ground, a monitoring group said.
“Despite fierce resistance from the Kurdish forces, IS advanced during the night and controls more than a third of Kobane,” Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP.
The Observatory said IS fighters were also closing on an area with several official buildings and the command of the Kurdish forces.
It said at least 42 IS jihadists were killed in the battle on Wednesday, including 23 in coalition air strikes, as well as 15 Kurdish fighters.
Kobane, also known as Ain al Arab, would be a major prize for the jihadists, giving them unbroken control of a long stretch of Syria’s border with Turkey.
The extremist group has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria, declaring an Islamic “caliphate” and committing widespread atrocities.
Washington launched its air campaign against IS in Iraq in August and last month expanded it to Syria with the participation of five Arab allies.
After meeting defence chiefs on Wednesday, US President Barack Obama admitted the fight against IS would not be easy or short.
“This is not something that is going to be solved overnight,” he said.
US-led aircraft were hitting the IS group at every opportunity but without a force on the ground to work with, there were limits to what could be accomplished by bombing from the air, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters.
“Air strikes alone are not going to do this,” Kirby said. “We don’t have a willing, capable, effective partner on the ground inside Syria right now. It’s just a fact.”
Obama has dispatched retired US general John Allen, and the US pointman on Iraq, Brett McGurk, to Ankara to squeeze commitments from Turkey on what role it can play in the coalition.
The Turkish response has been complicated by concerns over emboldening Kurdish separatists who have waged a deadly insurgency for the past three decades.
Pro Kurdish protesters angered by the Turkish government’s lack of action have clashed with police for three nights running, defying a curfew imposed by the army.
– Priest freed –
Hundreds of protesters took the streets again late Wednesday in cities of Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast and were dispersed using water cannon and tear gas, television said.
Protests and sporadic clashes have also erupted in Europe. More than 1,000 Kurds returned to the streets of Germany overnight, after unrest in the northern port city of Hamburg left 23 people wounded on Tuesday.
More than 180,000 people have been killed in Syria since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime began in 2011 and evolved into a multi-front civil war that has drawn thousands of jihadists from overseas.
A priest kidnapped by Al Qaeda linked rebels in northwestern Syria was released on Thursday, the Franciscan Order said, days after his abduction alongside 20 other Christians.
The order said Father Hanna Jallouf, who was abducted on Sunday in the village of Qunyeh near the Turkish border, remained under “house arrest” but provided no further details. The fate of the others abducted was not clear.