Jihadists from the Islamic State group using heavy weapons have seized a string of villages around Ain al-Arab as they close in on Syria’s third largest Kurdish town, a monitor said on Thursday.
“In the past 24 hours, IS fighters have launched a huge offensive and seized at least 16 villages to the east and west of Kobane,” said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights head Rami Abdel Rahman, using the Kurdish name for Ain al-Arab.
“The IS is using heavy weaponry, its artillery and tanks,” he said, adding that thousands of Kurdish fighters defending the town on the Turkish border were being encircled in a “pincer movement”.
Kobane is Syria’s third largest Kurdish town after Qamishli and Afrine. Its capture would allow the jihadists to control a long stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border.
Abdel Rahman said the latest IS offensive was larger than an assault in July that was repelled by the Kurds backed by hundreds of fellow Kurdish fighters who crossed from Turkey as reinforcements.
In the thick of Syria’s anti-regime uprising, the Kurds have established a semi-autonomous status in the Kurdish-inhabited regions of the country`s northeast, clashing repeatedly with the IS to defend their territory since the jihadists made their entry into the conflict in the spring of 2013.