Kurdish fighters have seemingly thwarted an advance by ISIL into the heart of the besieged Syrian town of Kobane, a monitoring group said Saturday.
Amid street clashes, armed members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) were repelled following a pre-dawn attack, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
But beleaguered Kurdish forces called on a U.S.-led coalition to escalate airstrikes on ISIL. Without greater support, the border town is likely to fall to ISIL, monitoring groups have said. Meanwhile, the U.N. has warned of a “massacre” of hundreds of civilians should ISIL take Kobane.
Kurdish fighters continue to struggle to hold the town despite more than two weeks of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition targeting ISIL. The raids, which are aimed at rolling back the militants' gains, appear to have done little to blunt their onslaught on Kobane, which began in mid-September.
Coalition jets carried out a further six strikes on positions on Friday and Saturday, destroying a staging building, two small units, three trucks and damaging a command and control facility, U.S. Central Command said.
But a Kurdish military official speaking from Kobane underscored the uphill battle his men face, noting that ISIL brought extra tanks and artillery to the front lines, while street-to-street fighting was making it harder for the warplanes to target their positions.
"We have a problem, which is the war between houses," said Esmat Al-Sheikh, head of the Kobane defense council.
"The air strikes are benefiting us, but Islamic State is bringing tanks and artillery from the east. We didn't see them with tanks, but yesterday we saw T-57 tanks," he added.
Also on Saturday, just outside the Turkish town of Suruc — across the border from Kobane — some 200 people gathered at a cemetery to bury two Kurdish fighters, a woman and a man, who died in the fighting.
The crowd, which included Kurds from Suruc and others from Kobane, broke into song, ending the burial ceremony with chants of "Long live Kobane."
Turkey is facing increased pressure to open a corridor to allow both aid and people into the besieged border town. On Friday, the U.N. envoy to Syria called on Ankara to help prevent a slaughter in Kobane by letting “volunteers” cross the frontier to bolster Kurdish troops.
But Turkey has been reluctant to help the Kurds defend the town, one of three areas of northern Syria where Kurds have established self-rule since the Syrian civil war began in 2011.
The main Syrian Kurdish group has close ties to the PKK - which waged a militant campaign for Kurdish rights in Turkey and is listed as a terrorist group by Turkey and its Western allies.
"[ISIL] is getting supplies and men, while Turkey is preventing Kobane from getting ammunition. Even with the resistance, if things stay like this, the Kurdish forces will be like a car without fuel," said Rami Abdelrahman, who runs the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Syrian Kurdish border town is the latest focus of ISIL, which has rampaged across northern Syria and western and northern Iraq since the summer, swallowing up large chunks of territory and imposing its reign of terror.
Capturing Kobane, also known under its Arabic name of Ayn Arab, would give the group a direct link between its positions in the Syrian province of Aleppo and its stronghold of Raqqa, to the east. It would also crush a lingering pocket of Kurdish resistance and give the group full control of a large stretch of the Turkish-Syrian border.
Kurds are determined not to allow Kobane to fall, but are vulnerable to the more heavily armed group.
On Friday, the ISIL members seized the so-called Kurdish security quarter — an area in the town's east where Kurdish militia members maintain security buildings and where the police station, municipality and other local government offices are located.
A senior Kurdish official, Ismet Sheikh Hasan, said clashes were focused in the southern and eastern parts of the town. He said the situation was dire and appealed for international help.
"We are defending [the town] but ... we have only simple weapons and they [ISIL] have heavy weapons," he said in a call with The Associated Press on Friday evening. "They are not besieged and can move easily," he said.