Islamic State fighters tighten siege of Syria border; UK joins coalition
BAGHDAD: Islamic State fighters tightened their siege
on a town on Syria’s border with Turkey on Friday despite US led air strikes
aimed at defeating the militants in both Syria and Iraq.
Washington’s closest ally in the wars of the last
decade joined the coalition at last on Friday after weeks of weighing its
options: Britain’s parliament voted 542 to 43 to back Prime Minister David
Cameron’s decision to join air strikes on Iraq.
“This is not a threat on the far side of the world.
Left unchecked, we will face a terrorist caliphate on the shores of the
Mediterranean and bordering a NATO member, with a declared and proven intention
to attack our country and our people,” Cameron told lawmakers.
Until this week France was the only Western country to
answer President Barack Obama’s call to join the US-led campaign. But
Australia, Belgium and the Netherlands have all joined since Monday and Denmark
announced on Friday that it too would send planes.
Obama has sought to rally international support for a
military coalition against Islamic State, a powerful force in Syria which swept
through much of northern Iraq in June, slaughtering prisoners and ordering Shi’ites
and non-Muslims to convert or die.
The campaign has brought Washington back to the
battlefield in Iraq that it left in 2011, and into Syria for the first time
after avoiding involvement during a civil war that began the same year. The
coalition also includes several Arab states, all led by Sunni Muslims alarmed
at the rise of Islamic State.
Islamic State has emerged as the most powerful Sunni militant
group battling the Shi’ite-backed governments in Iraq and Syria. Its fighters
are also battling against rival Sunni rebel groups in Syria and against Kurds
in both Syria and Iraq, countries facing complex, multi-sided civil wars in
which nearly every state in the Middle East has a stake.
French public support for the mission has surged this
week after the beheading of a French tourist in Algeria by captors who said it
was retaliation for French participation in strikes in Iraq.
Paris said it might also join US strikes in Syria
although there was no plan yet to do so. European countries have so far only
agreed to strike targets in Iraq, where the government has asked for help, and
not in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad has not given permission,
although he has not objected.
The main battle in northern Syria has been visible
from across the frontier in Turkey. The boom of artillery and bursts of
machinegun fire echoed across the border, and at least two shells hit a
vineyard on the Turkish side, though there were no immediate reports of
casualties inside Turkey.
Islamic State fighters appeared to have taken control
of a hill 10 km (6 miles) west of Kobani from where the YPG, the main Kurdish
armed group in northern Syria, had been attacking them in recent days.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,
which monitors the war, said Islamic State fighters had also taken control of a
village around 7 km to the east of Kobani.
The US military said its planes blew up four Islamic
State tanks in eastern Syria and hit a number of targets in Iraq.
Assad’s Syrian government has not objected to the US-led
campaign against some of his most powerful foes. Washington says it wants to
defeat Islamic State without helping Assad remain in power, and hopes other
anti-Assad groups can fill the vacuum. (Reuters)