BEIRUT — Kurdish fighters in Syria besieged pockets of Islamic State extremists in the northern border town of Kobani on Friday, a day after the militants managed to push into the strategic town in a major onslaught, setting off clashes that have so far killed more than 100 civilians, activists said. Some reports put the death toll at 145.
According to Kobani-based Kurdish activist Mustafa Bali, small groups of IS militants were still in the town and have taken civilians hostage in at least three locations. A fourth location, a restaurant, was stormed by Kurdish fighters who freed the hostages there and killed several IS fighters, he added.
The attack on Kobani came after the Islamic State group suffered setbacks over the past two weeks, including the loss of the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad — one of the main points for the Islamic State group to bring in foreign fighters and supplies.
Kobani on Syria’s border with Turkey had become a proud symbol of Kurdish resistance after the town and its defenders, backed by US-led coalition airstrikes, repelled an extended IS assault earlier this year.
The town was besieged by the Islamic State group for months last year and into January, but the IS forces were driven out by Kurdish militiamen six months ago.
Kurdish officials said the IS militants infiltrated the town on Thursday by wearing Syrian rebel uniforms and carrying flags of the mainstream Free Syrian Army to deceive Kobani’s Kurdish defenders. They then launched their attack by setting off three car bombs and taking up positions inside Kobani, the officials said.
“Fighting is still ongoing in the city. It was quiet overnight but fighting resumed Friday morning,” said Bali. He added that IS fighters are now holding hostages in a house near the Mashta Nour hospital, a house near the town’s cultural center and a home close to the Mahdathe school.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the attack on Kobani and its suburbs left 120 civilians dead. Bali said more than 100 civilians were killed in Kobani, as well as 40 IS fighters whose bodies were still lying in the streets. He added that 54 civilians have been buried in Kobani since Thursday.
A Facebook page that posts IS statements said a group of “inghimasiyoun,” a term that the group uses to refer to infiltrators who enter areas behind their enemies’ lines, entered Kobani and are fighting street battles inside the town.
Bali said some IS snipers took up positions on the roofs of buildings and opened fire on people in the streets.
After the clashes in Kobani broke out, the main Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, closed the primary border crossing point between Turkey and Tal Abyad for security reasons, said YPG spokesman Redur Khalil.
Elsewhere, the Observatory said clashes were underway for the second day between the Islamic State group and Syrian government forces in the northeastern city of Hassakeh.
Simultaneously with the attack on Kobani, IS on Thursday launched an offensive on the town that has been jointly controlled by Kurdish fighters and government troops and captured parts of it.
Syria’s state news agency SANA said government warplanes attacked IS positions near Hassakeh, killing and wounding dozens of militants.
“Warplanes and helicopters have been attacking their hideouts since the early morning,” Hassakeh governor Mohammed Zaal al-Ali told state Syrian TV.
He called on thousands of Hassakeh residents who fled the fighting to safer areas to return to their homes, saying “the situation today is better than yesterday.”
Meanwhile, the pan Arabic satellite TV station Al-Jazeera reported on Friday that its cameraman Mohammed al-Assfar was killed while covering battles between Syrian troops and rebels in the southern city of Daraa.
Daraa was the birthplace of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad in March 2011.