Middle East

Kurds secure Kobani after ISIS attack

A Turkish Kurdish boy stands near the Mursitpinar border gate in Suruc in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, as smoke rises in the Syrian town of Kobani in the background June 27, 2015. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

BEIRUT: Kurdish fighters said they fully secured the Syrian border town of Kobani Saturday and killed more than 60 ISIS militants, two days after the hardline group attacked it with suicide bombers.

Redur Xelil, spokesman for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia said around eight members of ISIS had also escaped north toward the Turkish border after the Kurds pushed back.

"There are still search operations in neighborhoods where they might be hiding. The town is quiet now," he said in an online message.

In Syria's northeast, Kurdish forces and the army fought separate battles with ISIS around Hassakeh city overnight as the extremists tried to capture more areas of the major urban center near the Iraqi border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said on Saturday.

In Kobani, the YPG blew up a school building used by ISIS earlier Saturday, the Observatory said, and plumes of smoke could be seen rising into the air from the Turkish side of the border.

ISIS killed around 200 civilians in the town and surrounding areas in the attack which started on Thursday, the Observatory said, describing it as one of the worst massacres committed by the group in Syria.

Kobani was the site of one of the biggest battles against ISIS last year. The Kurdish YPG force drove the militants back from the town with the help of U.S. airstrikes, after four months of fighting and siege.

The YPG previously described the latest attack on Kobani as "a suicide mission" rather than an attempt to capture the town.

In the northeast, ISIS does seem to be attempting to wrest Hassakeh city from government control. Syrian state television said Saturday the city was safe and under control, but the Observatory said fierce clashes continued in the southwest, south and southeast.

Hassakeh is important to all sides fighting in an area that sits between ISIS-held territory in Syria and Iraq and which reaches north up to the Turkish border.

The assault there will test the Syrian army's capacity to hold on to areas far from the major government-held cities in the west. The YPG's Xelil said the government forces appeared to be holding on to their positions by early Saturday.

ISIS launched an assault on government-held areas of Hassakeh early on Thursday and the United Nations says the violence is estimated to have displaced up to 120,000 people.

ISIS said in statements Saturday it attacked areas east of the city and in a video posted online claimed to have entered western areas. State television quoted the head of the police in Hassakeh as saying its special forces had "eliminated ISIS terrorists" in the city.

Hassakeh is divided into areas run separately by Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and Kurdish authorities and has a mixed population of Arabs, Kurds and Christians.

ISIS has been back on the offensive after two weeks of defeats at the hands of Kurdish-led forces, supported by U.S.-led airstrikes. This week the Kurds advanced to within 50 km (30 miles) of Raqqa city, the group's de facto capital.

Late on Friday Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi appealed to residents to take up arms to defend Hassakeh.

"I call on every man, every young woman and every young man able to carry weapons to move immediately and join the frontline positions to defend the city," he said on state television.

While ISIS had managed to advance slightly in Hassakeh on Friday, seizing one army position, heavy Syrian air force strikes hindered the attack, according to the Observatory.

The U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, citing government figures, said that since the attack on Hassakeh started 120,000 people were estimated to have been displaced within the city and to surrounding villages, as well as to the northern districts of the province.

 

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