Jihadi militants launched an attack on Syria’s Kurdish border city of Kobani on Thursday, after Kurdish forces pushed into Syrian territory held by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or Isis, in recent days.
Kurdish activists accused neighbouring Turkey of facilitating the fighters’ entrance to the area after car bombs shook the frontier on Thursday. Turkish officials deny the claims.
Ankara has been wary of recent advances by Syrian Kurdish forces linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which fought a 30-year war for separation from Turkey and is branded a terrorist group in the west. Kurds on both sides of the border have frequently accused Turkey of facilitating Isis movements against them. The long, porous border is also very difficult to control, making such claims difficult to prove.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, says three car bombs hit Kobani on Thursday morning. The group said at least 20 people, including 12 Kurdish fighters and civilians, were killed in the bombings and subsequent fighting. Another 35 people were reported killed or wounded during fighting in a nearby village, according to an SOHR statement.
The town became a cause célèbre last year after it was seized by Isis, bringing the US-led international coalition to the aid of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG. The YPG regained control of Kobani this year.
YPG spokesman Redur Xelil says his organisation is not officially accusing Turkey of allowing the jihadis to enter Kobani via Turkish territory but is investigating claims by eye witnesses.
“What we do know is that the militants who entered came raising the flags of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and wearing both YPG and FSA uniforms,” he said, using the common label used to describe non-Islamist Syrian rebel groups.
The use of FSA uniforms, in particular, could fuel tensions between the Kurds and the majority Arab Syrian opposition, whose relations have been shaky over suspicion the Kurds are trying to establish an autonomous region.
Syria’s four-year civil war started off as a struggle to topple President Bashar al-Assad but has degenerated into a complex and multi-faceted war that has brought Kurdish militias to power, as well as groups such as Isis.
A video from the Turkey’s Anadolu Agency revealed footage of the first car bomb blast at the border, and appeared to show a vehicle heading towards the crossing with Turkey from the Syrian side of the border moments ahead of the explosion. Turkish officials say this shows the attack did not originate in their territory.
“Claims that [Isis] militants entered Kobani through Turkey are baseless,” the governor’s office of Sanliurfa, the Turkish province that borders Kobani, said in a statement on its website. “According to the information at our disposal, members of the group infiltrated Kobani through Jarabulus.”
YPG spokesman Redur Xelil argued that the road from Jarabulus is impassable.
The coalition has been providing air cover for the Kurds in several of its recent advances against Isis, including the capture of Tel Abyad, the border crossing with Turkey. This week, the Kurds and allied rebels captured the army base of the 93rd Brigade, bringing them just 50km from Isis’s de-facto capital of Raqqa, from which it has been ruling the territory it controls in Syria and neighbouring Iraq.
Isis went back on the offensive early on Thursday with its attacks both on Kobani and eastern Hasakeh, a city divided between the Kurds and Assad forces. The YPG says it is still holding its part of the city but that Isis is advancing on the regime side.