Kurdish forces push back Islamic State in northern Syria

Updated 26 September 2014

Kurdish forces push back Islamic State in northern Syria

BEIRUT/KARACA, Turkey: Kurdish forces in northern Syria pushed back an advance by Islamic State fighters toward a strategic town on the Turkish border on Thursday and appealed for US-led air strikes to target the insurgents’ tanks and heavy armaments.
Islamic State launched a new offensive to try to capture the border town of Kobani more than a week ago, besieging it from three sides. At least 140,000 Kurds have fled the town and surrounding villages since Friday, crossing into Turkey.
Kurdish and Islamic State fighters exchanged artillery and machine gun fire in a cluster of villages about 15 km (9 miles) west of Kobani, where the frontline appeared not to have moved significantly for several days, a Reuters witness said.
Kurdish officials meanwhile said Islamic State had concentrated their fighters south of the town late on Wednesday and had pushed toward it, but that the main Kurdish armed group in northern Syria, the YPG, had repelled them overnight.
“The YPG responded and pushed them back to about 10-15 km (6-9 miles) away,” Idris Nassan, deputy minister for foreign affairs in the Kobani canton, told Reuters by telephone.
Syrian Kurdish refugees watching the fighting from a hill on the Turkish side of the border said the Islamic State insurgents had not been able to advance from positions they had taken up in olive groves west of Kobani.
Turkish military vehicles patrolled their side of the border, with soldiers occasionally moving people away from the hill overlooking the fighting. Heavy weapons fire could also be heard further away from the border inside Syrian territory.
The town’s location has been blocking the Sunni Muslim insurgents from consolidating their gains in northern Syria. The group tried to take the town in July but was repulsed by local forces backed by Kurdish fighters from Turkey.
The YPG on Thursday renewed calls for US-led air strikes to hit Islamic State positions around Kobani.
“Although all ISIS positions and their heavy armaments, including tanks and armored vehicles around Kobani, are clear and within view for everyone on the front line, it is worth noting that these targets have not been bombed yet,” YPG spokesman Redur Xelil said.
“We are of the utmost readiness to cooperate with the international coalition forces against terrorism and give it detailed information about the main targets,” he said.

TURKISH CONCERNS
Turkey has been slow to join calls for a coalition to fight Islamic State in Syria, worried in part about links between Syrian Kurds and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant group which waged a three-decade campaign against the Turkish state for greater Kurdish rights.
The PKK has called on Turkey’s Kurds to join the fight to defend Kobani and accused Ankara of supporting Islamic State. Residents in the border area say hundreds of youths have done so, although Turkish security forces have been trying to keep them from crossing the frontier.
Turkey strongly denies it has given any form of support to the Islamist militants but Western countries say its open borders during Syria’s three-year civil war allowed Islamic State and other radical groups to grow in power.
Ocalan Iso, a Kurdish defense official, confirmed that YPG forces had stemmed Islamic State’s advances south of Kobani, known as Ayn Al-Arab in Arabic.
“As our fighters secured the area, we found 12 Islamic State bodies,” he said by telephone. Islamic State fighters also remain to the east and west of the town and fighting continues in the south.
Both men said they had also heard warplanes flying over Kobani late on Wednesday for the first time, but it was not clear exactly which areas they were targeting.
A third night of US-led air strikes on Wednesday targeted Islamic State-controlled oil refineries in eastern Syria, US officials said.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war, said eight YPG fighters had been killed in overnight clashes.


Streets before suits: US envoy vists Beirut’s ‘real’ rescue hub

Updated 14 August 2020

Streets before suits: US envoy vists Beirut’s ‘real’ rescue hub

  • Hale’s visit to the volunteer hub in the Gemmayzeh district came days after Macron took a tour of the same street last week
  • Students and young professionals have ditched classes and day jobs to save lives and provide emergency support

BEIRUT: Arriving in Lebanon after last week’s deadly Beirut blast, US envoy David Hale bypassed politicians to head straight to a hard-hit neighborhood where young volunteers are helping people abandoned by their state.
At the volunteer hub dubbed the “Base Camp,” there is a “focus on getting things done,” Hale told a press conference after his tour.
He contrasted the hive of activity to the “dysfunctional governance and empty promises” of Lebanon’s political leaders, who face public outrage over the explosion of a vast stock of ammonium nitrate stored for years at Beirut’s port.
Volunteer efforts “could not only be tapped to rebuild Beirut but (also) to undertake necessary reforms that will bring the kind of transformation that is necessary for Lebanon,” Hale said.
In the wake of the August 4 explosion of a the huge chemical store that laid waste to whole Beirut neighborhoods, students and young professionals have ditched classes and day jobs to save lives, provide emergency support and start to rebuild.
Hale’s visit to the volunteer hub in the blast-hit Gemmayzeh district came days after French President Emmanuel Macron took a tour of the same street last Thursday, as well as meeting Lebanese leaders.
But while Macron was welcomed as a savior, it was clear that the heroes of the moment were the volunteers.
“I don’t know why (Hale) would do that second step and go to meet politicians,” said Wassim Bou Malham, 33, who leads a database management team at the Base Camp.
“The aid is happening here, the data collection is happening here, the cleaning is happening here, the reconstruction is happening here,” he told AFP.
Wearing face masks and neon vests, volunteers sounded like international experts as they explained how they were cleaning up their government’s mess.
In fluent English, they described 3D mapping operations, data collection and relief efforts organized since the cataclysmic blast.
Bou Malham, who spoke with Hale during the tour, is not a data expert but picked up useful experience managing client databases for two of Beirut’s biggest nightclubs.
After the blast tore through the city, wounding 6,500 people and displacing 300,000 from their homes, his skills became vital for the aid effort.
The digitised database developed by Bou Malham and his team of volunteers is now critical for sorting and delivering aid to thousands of blast survivors.
“We haven’t seen any government official or representative actually come in here and ask us if we need anything,” he said.
“It’s so funny that David Hale is the first.”
It is not only in the Base Camp that the state has been thin on the ground.
In the first hours after the explosion, civil defense teams were vastly outnumbered by young volunteers flooding the streets to help.
By the next day, the latter had set up a camp where they offered food, medicine, temporary shelter and repair services to thousands of blast victims, in partnership with several non-governmental groups.
Operations have continued to expand since.
A Base Camp relief hotline received more than 200 calls in the first two hours. Volunteers have assessed the damage to around 1,200 homes and installed at least 600 wooden doors.
“The work is going to speak for itself,” said Bushra, a 37-year-old volunteer.
Simmering anger against Lebanon’s leaders has flared since the blast, which appears to have been caused by years of state corruption and negligence.
With 171 people dead, it is widely seen as the most tragic manifestation yet of the rot at the core of the country’s political system.
Western donors too are fed up with Lebanon’s barons, who have for years resisted reforms demanded by the international community.
In a joint statement released after an international donor conference organized by France in the wake of the disaster, world leaders called for aid to be delivered directly to the Lebanese people.
USAID acting administrator, John Barsa, said at the time that American help “is absolutely not going to the government.”
USAID “will increase its financial support to civil society groups in Lebanon by 30 percent to $6.627 million,” Barsa said in a press briefing on Thursday.
At the volunteer camp in Gemmayzeh, it was clear that funding would be put to good use.
Ziad Al-Zein, arrives before volunteers start their shifts at 9:00 am to ensure the camp is clean and secure.
The 33-year-old was among the first groups of volunteers clearing debris in Gemmayzeh.
“We are not speacialists in crisis management or catastophe management. We are learning things as we go,” he said.
“There is no state,” he added. “We will not abandon our fellow Lebanese in these conditions.”