Syria’s north is target of militant offensive
Islamic State strikes Kobani and Hasaka in attacks seen as a bid to blunt the advance of Kurdish- led forces.
AMMAN, Jordan — Islamic State f ighters on Thursday attacked Kobani, the Syrian town on the Turkish border they besieged for months before being repulsed in January by Kurdish militias assisted by punishing airstrikes from a U. S.led coalition.
The Kobani strike was part of a multi- pronged Islamic State offensive targeting Kurdish- dominated areas of northeastern Syria. The militants also struck the city of Hasaka, jointly controlled by government forces and the People’s Protection Units, a Kurdish militia also known as the YPG.
The f ighting in Kobani left at least 35 dead and 55 wounded, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro- opposition British- based monitor with a network of activists in Syria.
The Islamic State offensive was seen as a bid to blunt the advance of Kurdish- led forces toward Raqqah, the militant group’s de facto capital in Syria. The militants launched their attack on Kobani with a car bomb near the Mursitpinar border crossing into Turkey, killing about a dozen civil- ians, Ocalan Isso, deputy defense minister of Kobani, said in a phone interview.
In the ensuing chaos, the militants, disguised as YPG f ighters, infiltrated the town, also known as Ayn alArab, and commandeered a school, tossing hand grenades and deploying snipers on the roof, Isso said. But he said that Kurdish forces had surrounded the building and that the Islamic State f ighters were cut off from any reinforcements.
No official casualty f igures were released, but Kurdish activists uploaded dozens of images on social media depicting the civilians killed and wounded in the violence. They also reported two other car bombings later in the day and continuing clashes in eastern parts of the city.
The Islamic State militants also overran the village of Barkh Botan, about 20 miles south of Kobani, killing at least 20 civilians and wounding 15, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency, or SANA, reported f ierce clashes in Hasaka, with government troops battling an Islamic State incursion in a western neighborhood. No casualty f igures were provided, but the Islamic State- affiliated Aamaq News Agency said about 70 soldiers were killed in the attacks.
Activists said thousands of civilians had abandoned their homes and f led the fighting.
The latest Islamic State offensive raised tension over the role of Turkey, which fears the Kurdish offensive just across the border in Syria could fan separatist sentiment among its own Kurdish minority. Turkey views the YPG as a proxy for the Kurdistan Workers Party, which waged a decades- long insurgency against the government.
Isso accused Turkey of being complicit in the attack on Kobani, charging that Islamic State fighters entered Kobani from Turkish territory
Turkish officials dismissed that claim, saying they possessed “concrete evidence that there was no crossing from the Turkish side,” according to the news service Agence FrancePresse.
Last week, Kurdish- led forces routed Islamic State f ighters who almost a year earlier had seized the border town of Tal Abyad.
That offensive, backed by coalition airstrikes, cut off Islamic State’s main supply route to Raqqah, about 50 miles south. It also gave Kurdish forces an opportunity to consolidate control of two areas in northeastern Syria, as well as opening a corridor to Iraqi Kurdistan.
Elsewhere in Syria, 51 rebel factions operating in the southern province of Dara announced a campaign to wrest control of areas of Dara city from the government. SANA reported that an attack by “terrorists,” the government’s standard description of rebel factions, had been thwarted, with f ighter jets pounding opposition targets in surrounding villages.
The news agency also denied that the rebels had taken control of the strategic Dara- Damascus road, one of two main highways linking southern Syria to Damascus, the capital and seat of power of President Bashar Assad.
The rebel operation was spearheaded by factions associated with the Southern Front, a coalition of socalled moderate fighters.
If successful, it would grant the rebels a rear supply base to mount operations on Damascus, a scant 59 miles north, as well as creating a contiguous zone of rebel control stretching from Quneitra province, bordering the Israeli- held Golan Heights, to the outskirts of the Druze city of Suwayda.
The Syrian Observatory put the death toll at 14 on the rebel side but did not give casualty figures for civilians or government forces.
The battle for Dara city comes after a recent string of important gains for the Southern Front. Opposition activists claim the battlefield successes are the result of an intense three- month period of supply and armament for the coalition from a logistics hub in the Jordanian capital, Amman, staffed by operatives from a number of intelligence services, including the CIA.
RELATIVES of victims gather outside a hospital in Suruc, Turkey, after a suicide blast across the border in Kobani, Syria. Militants launched their attack on Kobani with a car bomb that killed 12 people, an off icial said.