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Turkey Says No to Arming Kobani Kurds

by VOA News October 19, 2014

Turkey said on Sunday that it will not arm or agree to arms transfers to Kurdish fighters battling Islamic State militants for control of Kobani.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Sunday called the embattled Kurdish forces 'equal' to the Kurdistan Workers Party, which has waged a 30-year armed campaign for self-rule in Turkey.

Turkey and the U.S. consider the Kurdistan Workers Party a terrorist group.

Erdogan said 'it would be very, very wrong to expect' the Turkish government 'to openly say 'yes' to our NATO ally America giving this kind of support. To expect something like this from us is impossible.'

He made the comment days after the United States said it held its first direct talks with the Syrian Kurdish political party the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, which is tied to the Kurdish fighters in Kobani.

A State Department spokesperson stressed that one meeting does not represent coordination in the fight against the Islamic State group.

Late Saturday, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke by telephone with Erdogan about the situation in Kobani and steps that can be taken to stop Islamic State militants.

The White House said Obama expressed appreciation for Turkey hosting more than one million refugees from the region - including about 400,000 who fled Kobani.

Meanwhile, Islamic State militants continued to attack Kurdish fighters in and around Kobani with mortars and car bombs, sources in the city and a monitoring group said on Sunday.

Islamic State militants fired 44 mortars at Kurdish parts of the city on Saturday, with some of the shells falling inside the nearby Turkish border, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The group said four more mortars were fired on Sunday.

Death toll

The Observatory said 70 Islamic State fighters had been killed in the past two days, according to sources at the hospital in the nearby town of Tel Abyab, where Islamic State bodies are taken. The group also said seven Kurdish fighters were killed.

Reuters cannot independently confirm the reports due to security restrictions.

U.S. officials said coalition jets also made eight airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria overnight, six of those in Kobani, as fighting continued for control of the key border city of Kobani.

Sunday morning saw a brief lull in the militants' shelling of the city, but VOA correspondent Scott Bobb, reporting from the Turkish side of the border, said that by early afternoon mortar and artillery fire was picking up, with some shells landing in the western part of Kobani and some near the border crossing with Turkey.

Kurdish sources told Bobb the situation in Kobani has improved somewhat, adding that they have been able to regain control of some surrounding villages.

A top Kobani city official told The Associated Press that coalition airstrikes have slowed down Islamic State militants but that air power is not enough. The official said Kurdish fighters need more weapons and ammunition.

Volunteer aid reportedly blocked

Also on Sunday, Turkish authorities have stopped civic activists from France, Germany and some other EU countries from taking much needed medicines and food supplies to Kobani, volunteers told VOA.

An activist from France, Ari Harki, told VOA's Kurdish Service from the border near Kobani that Turkish authorities are not only stopping the medical and food supplies but also preventing Kurdish fighters from reentering Syria to fight the militants.

'Turkey is not only preventing us (activists) to cross the border but also Kobani's residents who brought their kids and elders to the border area to return to the city to fight against the Islamic State,' said Harki.

Harki is among ten volunteers from different EU countries who are in Turkey trying to head across the border into Syria with relief goods. He told VOA that people inside Kobani are in severe need of medicines and medical supplies as most of the city's hospitals and pharmacies have been destroyed by shelling from Islamist State militants.

Strategic point

Turkish and U.S. officials said last week that Islamic State fighters were on the verge of taking Kobani from its heavily outgunned Kurdish defenders, after seizing strategic points deep inside the town.

The four-week Islamic State assault has been seen as a test of U.S. President Barack Obama's airstrike strategy, and Kurdish leaders said the town cannot survive without arms and ammunition reaching the defenders, something neighboring Turkey has so far refused to allow.

The Islamic State group has been keen to take the town to consolidate its position in northern Syria after seizing large amounts of territory in the country and in Iraq.

A defeat of Islamic State militants in Kobani would be a major setback for the Islamists and a boost for the U.S.-led, anti-Islamic State coalition.

The coalition has been bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq since August and extended the campaign to Syria in September.

Iraq strikes; memorials

Meanwhile, Iraqi state television reports that Iraqi airstrikes have killed 60 Islamic State fighters in Anbar province.

Also Saturday, the family of British aid worker David Haines, who was beheaded by the Islamic State group last month, held a memorial service in Scotland. Mourners also honored another aid worker kidnapped and murdered by the militants, Alan Henning.

Islamic State militants had also beheaded two U.S. journalists - James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

The militants said they killed the four Westerners to avenge U.S.-led airstrikes. But many leading Muslim officials condemned militants, calling the murders un-Islamic.

VOA's Scott Bobb contributed to this report from Suruc, Turkey. Kokab Farshori from VOA's Kurdish Service also contributed. Some material for this report came from Reuters.

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