- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

SURUC, Turkey — Kurdish militiamen are putting up a fierce fight to defend a Syrian town near the border with Turkey but are struggling to repel the Islamic State group, which is advancing and pushing in from two sides, Syrian activists and Kurdish officials said Saturday.

The battle for Kobani is still raging despite more than two weeks of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition targeting the militants in and around the town. The strikes, which are aimed at rolling back the militants’ gains, appear to have done little to blunt their onslaught on Kobani, which began in mid-September.

Just outside the Turkish town of Suruc, across the border from Kobani, some 200 people gathered at a cemetery on Saturday to bury two Kurdish fighters, a woman and a man, who died in the fighting.

The two fighters— 22-year-old Mujaid Ahmed and 20-year- old Fatma Sheikh Hassan — were laid to rest in two simple wooden coffins. Men took turns heaving shovels of dirt to cover the coffins, as women wept. One woman kneeled over a freshly dug-out grave, tears streaming down her nose as others tried to console her.

Then, the crowd — which included Kurds from Suruc and others from Kobani — broke into song, ending the burial ceremony with chants of “Long live Kobani!”

The Syrian Kurdish border town is the latest focus of the Islamic State group, which has rampaged across northern Syria and western and northern Iraq since the summer, swallowing up large chunks of territory and imposing its reign of terror.

Capturing Kobani, also known under its Arabic name of Ayn Arab, would give the group a direct link between its positions in the Syrian province of Aleppo and its stronghold of Raqqa, to the east. It would also crush a lingering pocket of Kurdish resistance and give the group full control of a large stretch of the Turkish-Syrian border.

Kurds are determined not to allow Kobani to fall and are fighting zealously, but they have not been able to curb advances by the more heavily armed extremists.

On Friday, the militants seized the so-called Kurdish security quarter — an area in the town’s east where Kurdish militiamen maintain security buildings and where the police station, municipality and other local government offices are located.

A senior Kurdish official, Ismet Sheikh Hasan, said clashes were focused in the southern and eastern parts of the town. He said the situation was dire and appealed for international help.

“We are defending (the town) but … we have only simple weapons and they (militants) have heavy weapons,” he said in a call with The Associated Press Friday evening. “They are not besieged and can move easily,” he said.

Hasan said the U.S.-led airstrikes were not effective, and urged the international community and the United Nations to intervene, predicting a massacre if the militants seize control of Kobani. He also appealed to Turkey to open a corridor that would allow remaining civilians to leave Kobani and arms supplies to enter the town.

Since the Islamic State group’s offensive on Kobani started, at least 500 people have been killed and more than 200,000 have been forced to flee across the border into Turkey.

Hasan said the Turks were now allowing only wounded civilians to cross into Turkey.

The director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdurrahman, said the town’s Kurdish fighters “are putting up a fierce fight” but are simply outgunned by the militants.

• Associated Press writers Mucahit Ceylan and Burak Sayin contributed to this report from Mursitpinar, Turkey.

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