Middle East Updates / U.S., Partners Bomb Islamic State Near Kobani

Islamic State fighters push into Kobani; Pentagon: Air strikes not enough to save Kobani; Swiss ban Islamic State; Six airstrikes target IS near Kobani; 14 dead as Kurds protest in Turkey.


Haaretz's latest Middle East analyses and opinions: Hezbollah’s latest attack: PR for the resistance (Anshel Pfeffer) | Will the blood of Kobani’s Kurds be on Turkey’s hands? (Seth Lipsky)


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Latest updates:

10:11 P.M. Islamic State fighters pushed into two districts of the strategically important Syrian border town of Kobani in fierce fighting late on Wednesday, Kurdish officials among the town's defenders said.

"Tonight (Islamic State) has entered two districts with heavy weapons, including tanks. Civilians may have died because there are very intense clashes," Asya Abdullah, co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the main Syrian Kurdish group defending the area, told Reuters from the town.


Another PYD official said that despite continuing U.S.-led coalition airstrikes on Wednesday evening Islamic State fighters had seized some buildings on the eastern edges of the town.


The militants were being held in the suburbs by fierce resistance from Kurdish forces defending the town, which has been under assault for more than three weeks, the official added. (Reuters) 


9:37 P.M. Air strikes have driven some Islamic State fighters from Kobani, but won't be enough to save the Syrian town, the US military says.

The Pentagon believes that U.S.-led airstrikes have had an effect on Islamic State around Kobani, spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby says, noting that some militants remain inside the town but that others have left because of the air strikes.

He warns however that air strikes alone are not sufficient to halt Islamic State's advances. "Air strikes along are not going to ... fix this, not going to save the town of Kobani," he says. (DPA)

7:35 P.M. The Pentagon said on Wednesday that a Turkish proposed buffer zone was not one of the military options under consideration as a U.S.-led coalition pursues airstrikes in Syria, but acknowledged it was a subject of discussions with Ankara.

"This is not a new issue," Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told a news conference, noting longstanding Turkish interest in a buffer zone.

"It is now not on the table as a military option that we're considering. That said, I think it's a topic of continued discussions."  (Reuters)

7:10 P.M. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested on Wednesday that preventing the fall of the Syrian town of Kobani to Islamic State fighters was not a strategic U.S. objective and said the idea of a buffer zone should be thoroughly studied.

"As horrific as it is to watch in real time what is happening in Kobani ... you have to step back and understand the strategic objective," Kerry told reporters at a news conference with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

"Notwithstanding the crisis in Kobani, the original targets of our efforts have been the command and control centers, the infrastructure," he said. "We are trying to deprive the (Islamic State) of the overall ability to wage this, not just in Kobani but throughout Syria and into Iraq."

The Pentagon said the proposed buffer zone idea was not on the table now as a military option under consideration. (Reuters)

6:25 P.M. The Swiss government has banned the Islamic State extremist group and all activities to support the organization.

The neutral country's governing Federal Council on Wednesday issued an order banning the group and related organizations, a move it said was a response to "the escalation of recent weeks."

The ban also covers activities such as spreading propaganda and collecting money for the group. A government statement said that people who defy the ban could be punished with sentences ranging up to three years in prison. (AP)

5:58 P.M. The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will meet Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna on Oct. 14 and the two will be joined the next day by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the EU said in a statement.

Iran and major powers are seeking to settle a dispute over Tehran's nuclear work by a Nov.24 deadline. (Reuters)

5:20 P.M.  France said on Wednesday that a $3 billion contract to provide weapons and military equipment to the Lebanese army with Saudi Arabian financing could now go ahead after all sides had agreed on the deal.

"All the work is done and President (Francois Hollande) indicated yesterday ... that the conditions to fulfil the contract had been met," Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament. (Reuters)

4:37 P.M. More info about latest airstrikes in Syria: Two other strikes targeting Islamic State near Raqqa, Islamic State's de facto capital in Syria, hit a training camp for the militants and the group's fighters there, according to CENTCOM. Another strike near Deir al-Zor destroyed a tank, it said.

The strikes near Kobani appear to have pushed back the militant group, which had appeared set to seize the Syrian town bordering Turkey after a three-week assault. Read more here(Reuters)

4:07 P.M. The U.S. military said six airstrikes targeting Islamic State had struck the militant group near the Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobani on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes destroyed an armored personnel carrier, armed vehicles and artillery piece belonging to the militants.

The airstrikes were part of nine overall strikes in Syria over the last two days conducted with partner United Arab Emirates, using bomber, fighter, and remotely piloted aircraft, it said. "All aircraft exited the strike areas safely," it added.

The U.S. military and its partners from Britain and the Netherlands also conducted five strikes against Islamic State in Iraq on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the statement. (Reuters)

3:36 P.M. France's President Francois Hollande backs idea of a buffer zone between Syria and Turkey, in order to protect locals, Hollande's office said in a statement. (Reuters)

2:47 P.M. German federal prosecutors say they've charged two men with membership in a terrorist organization fighting in Syria.

Prosecutors said Wednesday Fatih K., a 35-year-old German, and Fatih I., a 27-year-old Turk, are accused of membership in Islamic extremist group Junad Al-Sham. Their surnames weren't given in accordance with privacy laws.

Prosecutors say the two traveled to Syria in June 2013 for paramilitary training with the group, whose goal is to see Syria governed under Islamic Sharia law.

Fatih K. is accused of fighting with the group and working as a cameraman on propaganda films. Fatih I. is accused of providing the group 30,000 euros ($38,000), including 25,000 euros defrauded from a German bank.

Both returned to Germany later in 2013 and have been in custody since March. (AP)

1:20 P.M. Militants with Islamic State group shot down an Iraqi military attack helicopter, killing the two pilots on board in the second such incident in a week and raising concerns about the extremists' ability to attack aircraft amid ongoing U.S.-led airstrikes.

According to two Iraqi officials, the extremists used a shoulder-fired missile to take down the Bell 407 helicopter, which crashed just north of the refinery town of Beiji, located about 200 kilometers (130 miles) north of Baghdad.

The pilot and co-pilot were both killed in the attack, a military aviation official told The Associated Press. A Defense Ministry official confirmed the information. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

This is the second Iraqi military helicopter shot down by the Islamic State group over Beiji in one week. Militants shot down a Mi-35 helicopter near Beiji on Friday, also killing the pilot and co-pilot in that attack. (AP)

12:00 P.M. U.S.-led air strikes on Wednesday pushed Islamic State fighters back to the edges of the Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobani, which they had appeared set to seize after a three-week assault, Kurdish officials in the town said.

"They are now outside the entrances of the city of Kobani. The shelling and bombardment was very effective and as a result of it, IS have been pushed from many positions," Idris Nassan, deputy foreign minister of Kobani district, told Reuters by phone.

"This is their biggest retreat since their entry into the city and we can consider this as the beginning of the countdown of their retreat from the area." (Reuters) Read full article

11:52 A.M. At least 14 people died on Tuesday during violent clashes across Turkey, local media reported, as the fate of the besieged Syrian border town of Kobani stirred up decades of tensions with Turkey's Kurdish minority.

Violence erupted in Turkish towns and cities mainly in the Kurdish southeastern provinces, as protesters took to the streets to demand the government do more to protect Kobani, a predominantly Kurdish settlement which has been surrounded by Islamic State fighters for three weeks.

Authorities imposed curfews in at least five provinces, police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators who burnt cars and tires, whilst groups linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) clashed with Islamic State sympathizers, authorities said. Eight people died in Diyabakir, the largest Kurdish city in the southeast, DHA News agency reported, citing a senior police officer. Several others died in the eastern provinces of Mus, Siirt and Batman in clashes between police and protesters.

Istanbul Govenor's Office said 98 people were detained in 'illegal protests' across the country's biggest city, and 30 people were wounded, including eight police officers.

The death toll in one night has already surpassed that seen during weeks of anti-government protests which turned violent last year. (Reuters) Read the full article here. 

11:10 A.M. Iran and major powers are set to hold multilateral and bilateral nuclear talks in coming days in Vienna, Iran's foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

"I think that we will have bilateral and multilateral talks before the end of the next week in Vienna," ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said when asked when Iran and its negotiating partners would next meet. She was speaking at a news conference carried live on state television. (Reuters)

10:44 A.M. Iran's President Hassan Rohani says Tehran and world powers agree on the principles of a final deal on the Iranian nuclear program but that differences remain on the "details" that still need to be negotiated. He says that Iran and the six-nation group — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany — have come a long way in sorting out major issues but that they still differ over issues such as "quantity."

Rohani did not elaborate. He spoke with lawmakers on Tuesday night, according to the Iranian state television. The two sides face a November 24 deadline to reach a comprehensive deal. The nuclear talks reportedly remain stuck over the size and output of Iran uranium enrichment program, a possible pathway to nuclear arms. (AP)

9:17 A.M. Washington is concerned by Turkey's reluctance to engage Islamic State militants in the Syrian border town of Kobane, a news report said Wednesday.

"There's growing angst about Turkey dragging its feet to act to prevent a massacre less than a mile from is border," an unnamed senior administration official was quoted as saying by the New York Times.

Islamic State is close to taking the town of Kobane, in the ethnic Kurdish area of Syria, from the defending Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), officials said Tuesday, as U.S.-led airstrikes pounded the militants' positions.

"After all the fulminating about Syria's humanitarian catastrophe, [Turkey is] inventing reasons not to act to avoid another catastrophe," the official said. "This isn't how a NATO ally acts while hell is unfolding a stone's through from their border." (DPA)

4:03 A.M. Canada's Parliament has voted to authorize air strikes against the Islamic State militant group in Iraq following a U.S. request. The motion passed 157-134 Tuesday.

The motion authorizes air strikes in Iraq for up to six months and explicitly states that no ground troops be used in combat operations. The combat mission includes up to six CF-18 fighter jets, a refueling tanker aircraft, two surveillance planes and one airlift aircraft. About 600 airmen and airwomen will be involved. (AP)

2:31 A.M. The grave humanitarian crisis in Iraq will become "a deadly life-threatening situation" if shelter isn't found for over 160,000 people in Kurdistan before winter weather arrives in about six weeks, a senior UN official warned Tuesday.

Kevin Kennedy, the deputy humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, also told a news conference by video link from the Kurdish capital Irbil that getting aid to some 500,000 people in need of support in Anbar province, where the Islamic State terrorist group continues to capture territory, is very difficult. (AP)

2:03 A.M. Turkish news agencies say at least 14 people have died and scores were injured in clashes between Turkish police and Kurdish protesters.

The violence Tuesday centered in predominantly Kurdish eastern Turkey, but there were clashes across Turkey and Europe as demonstrators demanded more action against the Islamic State group's advance on a town on the Syrian-Turkish border.

Turkey's private Dogan news agency reported 8 dead in the eastern city of Diyarbakir and the others in cities in the east as police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse protesters who burned cars and damaged businesses. Curfews were imposed in five Turkish provinces. There were also clashes in western cities, including Ankara and Istanbul. (AP)


11:30 P.M. The United States stepped up discussions with Turkey on Tuesday over Ankara's role in a U.S.-led coalition that is fighting Islamic State militants, who were closing in on a key Syrian town on the Turkish border. NATO member Turkey has not joined the U.S.-led coalition against the Sunni insurgents, saying the campaign should also remove Syrian President Bashar Assad.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken twice in recent days with his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, once on Monday night and again on Tuesday morning, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a regular briefing.

"Turkey is determining what larger role they will play going forward and that conversation is ongoing," Psaki said. "They have indicated their openness to doing that, so there is an active conversation about that." (Reuters)