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Kurds in Syria halt militants’ advance

Town has been scene of intense fighting since late last month

As seen from the Turkey-Syria border, thick smoke rises following an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition in Kobani, Syria, on Sunday. (Associated Press)
As seen from the Turkey-Syria border, thick smoke rises following an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition in Kobani, Syria, on Sunday. (Associated Press)
Lefteris Pitarakis Associated Press

MURSITPINAR, Turkey – Kurdish fighters have been able to halt the advance of the Islamic State extremist group in the Syrian border town of Kobani, where the U.S.-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes for more than two weeks, activists said Sunday.

The coalition, which is targeting the militants in and around Kobani, conducted at least two airstrikes Sunday on the town, according to an Associated Press journalist. The U.S. Central Command said warplanes from the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates conducted four airstrikes in Syria on Saturday and Sunday, including three in Kobani that destroyed an Islamic State fighting position and staging area.

The Syrian Kurdish enclave has been the scene of heavy fighting since late last month, with the heavily armed Islamic State fighters determined to capture the border post and deal a symbolic blow to the coalition air campaign.

The extremist group has carved out a vast stretch of territory stretching hundreds of miles from northern Syria to the outskirts of Baghdad and imposed a harsh version of Islamic rule. The fighters have massacred hundreds of captured Iraqi and Syrian soldiers, terrorized religious minorities, and beheaded two American journalists and two British aid workers.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Islamic State militants have not been able to advance in Kobani since Friday but are sending in reinforcements. The Observatory’s chief, Rami Abdurrahman, said the group appears to have a shortage of fighters and has brought in members of its religious police known as the Hisbah to take part in the battles.

The jihadists control more than a third of the town.

Since the offensive on Kobani began, some 550 people have been killed, including about 300 Islamic State fighters, 225 Kurdish gunmen and 20 civilians, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists across Syria. It said the number of jihadists killed could be much higher.

Farhad Shami, a Kurdish activist in Kobani reached by phone from Beirut, said the town was “relatively quiet” on Sunday apart from sniper fire. He said Islamic State fighters launched an offensive south of the town on Saturday but were repelled and lost many fighters.

He said Kurdish fighters also were able to regain the border village of Tel Shair west of Kobani.

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