For the first time since the Islamic State group launched an offensive on the Syrian border town of Kobani last month, a small group of Syrian rebels yesterday entered the town from Turkey in a push to help Kurdish fighters there battle the militants, activists and Kurdish officials said.
The group of around 50 armed men is from the Free Syrian Army, and is separate from Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters who were also en route yesterday to Kobani, along the Syrian-Turkish border.
Idriss Nassan, a Kurdish official from Kobani, said the FSA group entered Kobani through the Mursitpinar bordercrossing in Turkey. Nassan, who spoke from the border region in Turkey, said they travelled in cars but did not have more details.
The FSA is an umbrella group of mainstream rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The political leadership of the Western-backed FSA is based in Turkey, where fighters often seek respite from the fighting.
The 150 Iraqi peshmerga troops, along with cannons and heavy machine guns, arrived in Turkey from Iraq early yesterday and were expected to cross into Syria later in the day. Their deployment came after Ankara agreed to allow the peshmerga troops to cross into Syria via Turkey.
Kurdish fighters in Syria, known as the People’s Protection Units or YPG, have been struggling to defend Kobani — also known as Ayn Arab — against the Islamic State group since mid-September, despite dozens of coalition airstrikes against the extremists.
It is not clear what impact this small but battle-hardened combined force of FSA and peshmerga fighters will have in the battle for Kobani. Hundreds of people gathered in the Turkish town of Suruc, near the border with Syria, waiting for the peshmerga.
“We are waiting for the peshmerga. We want to see what weapons they have,” said Nidal Attur, 30, from a village near Kobani who arrived two weeks ago.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the BBC that sending the peshmerga and the FSA was “the only way to help Kobani, since other countries don’t want to use ground troops.”
The fighting in Kobani has deadlocked in recent days, with neither side able to get the upper hand in the battle.
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