Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels have joined the battle to defend the besieged enclave of Kobane from a weeks-long onslaught as heavily armed Iraqi peshmerga fighters also headed to the area to reinforce fellow Kurdish troops.
At least 50 fighters from the Western-backed FSA became the first Syrian rebels allowed to cross from Turkey into Kobane on Wednesday, a Turkish official and a monitoring group said, to help beleaguered militias save their town from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has surrounded Kobane on three sides.
An FSA commander in Kobane, Col. Abdul Jabbar al-Oqaidi, told the BBC that the number of FSA fighters who had crossed into Kobane by Wednesday was “up to 200,” but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, put the count at about 50.
The Iraqi peshmerga troops were expected to follow in a convoy of trucks carrying about 80 fighters, machine guns, heavy artillery and rocket launchers. The Iraqi fighters received a euphoric welcome from Turkish Kurds, who cheered and waved Kurdish flags, Agence France-Presse reported.
Another group of several dozen peshmerga fighters was already near the border after flying from Iraq overnight to the Turkish city of Sanliurfa.
Escorted by Turkish armored vehicles, the group boarded buses and headed toward the border on a road that security forces closed to journalists.
"They are waiting for the land contingent to arrive so that they will cross together, depending on the situation," a local Turkish official said.
Under heavy pressure from the United States, Turkey announced last week it would allow some 150 fighters from Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish province to cross its territory to join the fight for Kobane.
The town has become an important symbol in the battle against ISIL, the extremist group that has seized large parts of Syria and Iraq and declared an Islamic caliphate.
Turkey has been wary of supporting the Kurdish forces defending Kobane, the People's Protection Units — which have close links with the outlawed rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has fought a three-decade insurgency in southeastern Turkey.
Ankara has instead pushed for other Syrian rebel forces like the FSA, which it backs in the fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to help the town's defenders.
On Wednesday, ISIL continued to target oil and gas facilities in Iraq and Syria as it seeks funds for its fight to seize territory.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a wide network of sources in Syria, said ISIL fighters attacked an oil and gas field in Homs province held by the Assad regime, killing 30 Syrian army gunmen and security guards.
ISIL was in control of parts of the Shaer field in Homs, the Observatory said, adding that an unknown number of the group’s fighters were killed in the assault on Tuesday.
An attack by ISIL fighters on Shaer in July left 270 people dead, including soldiers and pro-regime fighters. Most were reportedly executed at gunpoint after being taken prisoner.
Washington has forged a coalition of Western and Arab nations to battle ISIL, carrying out a barrage of airstrikes on the group in Iraq and Syria. The strikes have had mixed success.
ISIL has been pushing back Iraqi forces in western Iraq over the past month, but the Pentagon said Iraqi troops had made gains elsewhere in Iraq in the last 36 hours.
In central Iraq, north of Baghdad, Iraqi forces expanded control of territory near the Baiji oil refinery and were "making progress," said Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby. They also advanced against ISIL west of Baghdad, he added.
U.S. cargo planes parachuted aid to a beleaguered Sunni tribe in western Iraq's Anbar province at the request of the Baghdad government. Dropping humanitarian aid by air to Anbar underscored the Shia-led Iraqi government's difficulties in the west of the country and suggested Iraqi troops were still not able to move safely over roads in the area.
Coalition partner Australia meanwhile said it was seeking to confirm reports that the most senior Australian ISIL recruit had been killed. The Australian Broadcasting Corp. said Afghan-born Mohammad Ali Baryalei, reportedly a former nightclub bouncer and aspiring actor, was believed to have died in fighting in recent days.
Baryalei has been accused of ordering demonstration killings in Australia, including beheading a random member of the public.
Al Jazeera and Agence France-Presse