Syrian Kurdish fighters Monday claimed a major symbolic victory as they pushed Islamic State fighters out of the embattled Syrian town of Kobane. As of Tuesday, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) would take the fight to the jihadist-held countryside around the town, which lies on Syria’s border with Turkey, Kobane defence chief Ismet Hassan told dpa.
The YPG captured the eastern Kani Araban district from the extremists in the morning and later retook the last remaining areas of the town, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
The US military later confirmed that forces battling the Islamic State were in control of 90 per cent of the town, after saying earlier in the day that the fighting was ongoing.
US Central Command, which has been assisting Kurdish fighters with airstrikes in the region, applauded “these courageous fighters and thanks them for their efforts.”
“Anti-ISIL forces have fought aggressively with resilience and fortitude. While the fight against ISIL is far from over, ISIL’s failure in Kobani has denied them one of their strategic objectives.”
The Kurdish victory comes after more than four months of fighting around Kobane, the centre of the smallest of three Kurdish enclaves in northern Syria.
Islamic State, fresh from victories in Iraq that saw them capture the country’s second city Mosul and huge quantities of military equipment, turned their guns on the enclave in mid-September after two previous failed offensives.
The IS fighters were hoping for a propaganda victory against Kurdish forces they revile as communists and atheists.
Capturing Kobane would also have eliminated the last hostile salient inside a swathe of Islamic State territory across northern and north-eastern Syria where Islamic State has imposed its control. But the YPG fought back fiercely: according to the Britain-based Observatory, the campaign has cost the jihadists almost 1,000 fighters while the Kurds have lost some 324.
Kobane became the main focus of US-led airstrikes in Syria, and was also reinforced by 150 Peshmerga troops armed with artillery and heavy weapons from neighbouring Iraq.
Hassan Monday warned that the fighting was not over yet, with Kurdish villages in a radius of 40 kilometres around the town remain occupied by the jihadists.
The enclave “has been surrounded for two years and is still surrounded,” he added: “We call on the world to open a humanitarian corridor to support Kobane.”
In Moscow, meanwhile, members of the Syrian opposition met for a fresh attempt at defusing the country’s bloody civil war. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that “27 to 28” opposition members had come to Moscow for the talks.
According to Arab media reports, the opposition members, led by former UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, will negotiate among themselves for two days before Syrian government representatives join the talks Wednesday.
Among them are two members of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change. Its leader, Mounzer Khaddam, said that expectations are not high.
“We do not expect much from this meeting and we hope that the regime will deal seriously with this meeting,” he told dpa by phone from Syria.
Not invited to the Moscow talks are radical groups, including the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State. Also not present is the Istanbul-based National Coalition, the main Western-backed external opposition group.
Coalition spokeswoman Sarah Karkour said that nine of its members had declined an invitation to participate as individuals.
In other developments Monday, Turkey opened its largest refugee camp to date, in the southern city of Suruc. Located near the border with Syria, it is able to accommodate 35,000 refugees, a spokesman for AFAD, the Turkish catastrophe relief agency, told dpa.
About 140,000 Syrians are spread out across 25 camps along Turkey’s border region with Syria. Overall, about 1.6 million Syrians have fled their country, which has been engulfed in civil war for four years.
AFAD said at least one more refugee camp is being planned, in south-eastern Turkey.
The conflict, which started with peaceful demonstrations in March 2011, has claimed more than 200,000 lives, according to activists, and driven almost half of Syria’s population from their homes. SAPA