Middle East - 09:34, 04 November 2014 Tuesday
Focus on Kobani obscures the war in Syria, France points Aleppo

The battle has deflected attention from significant gains elsewhere in Syria by ISIL, which has seized two gas fields within a week from President Bashar al-Assad's forces in the centre of the country.

Focus on Kobani obscures the war in Syria France points

World Bulletin/News Desk

The coalition fighting ISIL must now save Syria's second city Aleppo as moderate rebels face destruction by attacks from forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and militants, France's foreign minister said.

In a column in French daily Le Figaro, the Washington Post and pan-Arab Al-Hayat, Laurent Fabius said the city, the "bastion" of the opposition, was almost encircled and abandoning it would end hopes of a political solution in Syria's three-year civil war.

"Abandoning Aleppo would condemn 300,000 men, women and children to a terrible choice: the murderous siege of the regime's bombs or the barbarity of the ISIL terrorists," Fabius wrote.

"It would condemn Syria to years of violence. It would be the death of any political perspective and would see the fragmentation of the country run by increasingly radicalised warlords. It would also export the internal chaos of Syria towards already fragile neighbours Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan."

As U.S. warplanes bomb ISIL in parts of Syria, Assad's military has intensified its own campaign against some of the rebel groups in the west and north of the country that Washington considers its allies, including in and around Aleppo.

Fabius' comments came just three days after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was in Paris to meet President Francois Hollande. During that visit Erdogan sought to get backing from Paris for his calls to tackle Assad as well as ISIL.

Erdogan specifically criticised the U.S.-led coalition's action in Syria calling for the focus to shift from the Kurdish town of Kobani near the Turkish border to other areas in Syria.

Paris, which is taking part in air strikes in Iraq, has given Iraqi Peshmerga fighters weapons and training, but has ruled out carrying out air strikes in Syria.

It says it is providing military aid and training to the ramshackle Free Syrian Army in Syria, but has not given any specific details of its help.

It has also echoed Turkey's calls for a buffer zone to be set up in Syria, although French diplomats say it is not viable without a U.N. Security Council resolution.

Without giving concrete details how France proposed to help save Aleppo, Fabius said he could not accept that the city would be left to its fate.

"That's why, with our coalition partners, we must turn our efforts to Aleppo ... to strengthen the moderate opposition and protect the civilian population against the twin crimes of the regime and Islamic State. After Kobani, we must save Aleppo," the column read.

PESHMERGA IN KOBANI

Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters and moderate Syrian rebels bombarded ISIL positions in Kobani on Monday, but it was unclear if their arrival would turn the tide in the battle for the besieged Syrian border town.

Kobani has become a symbolic test of the U.S.-led coalition's ability to halt the advance of ISIL, which has poured weapons and fighters into its assault of the town that has lasted more than a month.

The battle has deflected attention from significant gains elsewhere in Syria by ISIL, which has seized two gas fields within a week from President Bashar al-Assad's forces in the centre of the country.

In Iraq, the group has executed more than 300 members of a Sunni tribe that dared oppose it last week, after seizing the tribe's village in the Euphrates valley west of Baghdad. On Monday a member of the tribe said another 36 members had been executed in the provincial capital Anbar.

For now, the eyes of the world have been on Kobani, where weeks of fighting have taken place within full view of the Turkish border, causing outrage among Kurds in Turkey who blamed their government for doing too little to help defend the town.

The arrival in Kobani of the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga and additional Syrian Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters in recent days has escalated efforts to defend the town after weeks of U.S.-led air strikes.

White smoke billowed into the sky as peshmerga and FSA fighters appeared to combine forces, raining cannon and mortar fire down on ISIL positions to the west of Kobani, a Reuters witness said.

The U.S. military said it bombed ISIL positions in Syria five times and in Iraq nine times on Sunday and Monday, including near Kobani.

An estimated 150 Iraqi Kurdish fighters crossed into Kobani with arms and ammunition from Turkey late on Friday, the first time Ankara has allowed reinforcements to reach the town.

"(Their) heavy weapons have been a key reinforcement for us. At the moment they're mostly fighting on the western front, there's also FSA there too," said Meryem Kobane, a commander with the YPG, the main Syrian Kurdish armed group in Kobani.

She said fierce fighting was also continuing in eastern and southern parts of the city.

The peshmerga, the official security forces of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, have deployed behind Syrian Kurdish forces and are supporting them with artillery and mortar fire, according to Ersin Caksu, a journalist inside Kobani. The fiercest fighting was taking place in the south and east, areas where the reinforcements were not deployed, he said.

Despite weeks of air strikes, ISIL has continued to inflict heavy losses on Kobani's defenders. Late last week hospital sources in Turkey reported a jump in the number of dead and wounded Kurdish fighters being brought across the frontier.

TRIBES

In Iraq, ISIL fighters have stormed through mainly Sunni Muslim cities and towns in the Tigris and Euphrates valleys north and west of Baghdad, in part with the support of many Sunni Muslims angry at perceived mistreatment by the Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad.

Washington hopes that Sunni tribes can be lured to switch sides, as they did during the U.S. "surge" campaign against al Qaeda in 2006-2007. But so far, Sunni tribes that have dared to stand up to ISIL have suffered brutal fates, while complaining of little support from the Baghdad government.

More than 320 members of the Albu Nimr tribe, including women and children, have been hunted down, captured, shot and buried in mass graves since their village fell to the fighters.

Hamdan al-Nimrawi said on Monday 36 more members of the tribe had been shot dead in Ramadi, capital of the vast Anbar province west of Baghdad, where fighters control towns and villages stretching from the Syrian frontier, down the Euphrates to the western outskirts of Baghdad itself.

Setting up an international coalition to fight ISIL in both Iraq and Syria has been a tricky diplomatic task for the United States, requiring consensus for intervention in two complex, multi-sided civil wars where nearly every country in the Middle East has a stake.

"PSYCHOLOGICAL WAR"

The fight for Kobani within sight of the Turkish frontier has heaped pressure on Ankara, which has been reluctant to intervene, accusing the town's defenders of links with Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants, who have fought a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

Some 40 people died in riots in Turkey last month after Kurds, who make up around 15 percent of the population and the majority in the southeast, rose up in anger at the government for doing too little to help protect Kobani.

President Tayyip Erdogan on Monday decried what he called a "psychological war" being waged by international media against Ankara over its Syria policy.

A survey by pollster Metropoll appeared to show sympathy for Erdogan's stance, with a majority of respondents saying the PKK, listed as a terrorist organisation by Europe and the United States, posed a greater threat to Turkey than ISIL.

Three soldiers were killed last week by suspected Kurdish militants while out shopping, the latest attack on Turkish security forces amid growing tension over a stalled Kurdish peace process.

With the world's attention on Kobani, ISIL forces have continued to gain ground elsewhere in Syria.

The ISIL seized a gas field in the central province of Homs, according to the SITE website monitoring service -- the second gas field reported captured in a week from Assad's forces.

On Monday, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a Western-backed Syrian opposition group, the Hazzm movement, had lost positions and equipment including heavy weapons after being overrun by Nusra Front fighters in Idlib province, near the Turkish border.

On Saturday, Nusra fighters seized the bastion of another western-backed group, also in Idlib.