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Oct 24, 2014 10:20 AM

Turkey says 1,300 Syria rebels heading to Kobani

The Associated Press

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) Turkey's president said Friday that Ankara would allow hundreds of Syrian rebels to travel to the embattled border town of Kobani in order to help Kurdish fighters there fend off an Islamic State onslaught.

But Syrian opposition activists denied there were any such plans, and Kurdish fighters reacted angrily to the announcement, viewing it as a slight to their dogged defense of the town over the past month.

The announcement by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested more assistance for Syrian Kurdish fighters who have been battling the extremists since mid-September, when the IS group launched a sweeping offensive to try to take Kobani. A U.S.-led coalition is also shelling militant positions around the town.

During a state visit in Estonia, Erdogan said the Western-backed Free Syrian Army would send 1,300 fighters to the Syrian town. He told reporters that the rebels were negotiating their route with Kurdish forces in the town.

"The PYD accepted (the) FSA to send 1,300 fighters. Now they are negotiating the route," he told reporters, referring to the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party, the PYD, which governs Kobani and has been leading its defense.

Syria's Kurds are seen as the most successful group fighting the Islamic State militants on the ground, and are broadly secular and moderate. They are being aided by U.S. airstrikes in Kobani, and have received air-dropped shipments of weapons.

But unlike the Syrian rebels, who share Ankara's primary aim of overthrowing President Bashar Assad, Syria's Kurdish minority is trying to carve out more autonomy for their self-declared region of Rojava.

The Syrian Kurds accuse Turkey of trying to undermine them at every turn. Earlier this week, Turkey announced that Kurds from Iraq who have better relations with Ankara would enter Kobani through its territory.

"We need weapons, we are not in need of fighters," said Nawaf Khalil of the PYD. "There has been no communication with us," Khalil said of the Turkish announcement.

Adding more confusion to the announcement, a spokesman for the Western-backed Syrian opposition in exile, Kenan Mohammed, said there were no plans to send fighters to Kobani. He and another spokesman said Syrian rebels were already badly overstretched trying to defend opposition-held areas, particularly the Aleppo countryside, from advancing government forces.

"There is no way to send at the present time. We have too many active fronts. The FSA can't abandon civilians there. Aleppo is under threat," said Saeed Mansour, spokesman for the Western-backed fighters. Mansour said some Syrian rebels had been fighting alongside the Kurds for the past few weeks, but that he did not expect the FSA to send official units.

Elsewhere in Syria, government forces shelled several rebel-held areas mostly in the southern province of Daraa, the central region of Hama and Aleppo to the north.

Shelling in the northern village of Tel Qrah late Thursday killed at least nine people, charring bodies beyond recognition, according to activists.

Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said three children were among the nine killed. Local activist Ibrahim Khatib said a building where displaced Syrians were living was hit and that many bodies were badly burnt and could not be identified.

The bombing is part of an intensified effort by the Syrian government to retake rebel-held areas around key cities and towns while the U.S.-led coalition battles the Islamic State group.

Washington insists it still supports efforts to unseat Assad and is not coordinating the air campaign with Damascus.


Hadid reported from Beirut.


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