Islamic State (IS) militants have launched dual assaults on Syrian Kurds and government forces, re-entering the border enclave of Kobane and overrunning sections of northeastern Syrian city of Hasaka.
The attack on Kobane began on Wednesday night when IS gunmen, reportedly disguised in Kurdish and Free Syrian Army uniforms, detonated a suicide car bomb at the Mursitpinar border crossing with Turkey then moved on the center of the town from multiple directions.
Fighting was still taking place as of Thursday afternoon, leaving at least 13 people dead and many more injured, according to the UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). The observatory, which collects information from a network of local sources, said that clashes were also taking place in a village to Kobane's south where IS had executed a number of people.
The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) said in a statement that IS had launched "simultaneous" car bomb attacks on Mursitpinar then attacked civilians, injuring "tens" of people, mostly women and children. It added that Kobane hospital couldn't cope with the influx of wounded and that the most serious cases were being transferred to Turkey.
In a later update the YPG said that clashes were still taking place, but that "quick and simultaneous" IS assaults had been "repulsed" and that at least 15 jihadists had been killed and one captured.
Turkey's Anadolu Agency released a CCTV video that it claimed to show the initial car bomb blast. The footage shows a Toyota pickup approaching the border gate from the west before detonating.
Watch the VICE News documentary, On The Hunt for Islamic State Infiltrators (Excerpt from 'The Road to Mosul')
[ooyalacontent_id="NzNjB2dTqftM9fE1xX772j6RcfmaxHKI"player_id="YjMwNmI4YjU2MGM5ZWRjMzRmMjljMjc5" auto_play="1" skip_ads="0"]
Both the YPG and Syrian state media — which often seeks to portray Turkey as supporting extremists — claimed that the vehicle had entered Kobane from the Turkish side of the border. Authorities denied the allegations and the governor of neighboring Sanliurfa province said in a statement that IS had actually attacked from Jarablus in Aleppo province, Reuters reported.
Kobane, which is also known by its Arabic name Ayn al-Arab, was almost overrun by a concerted IS offensive beginning in October last year. The extremists were halted with the help of heavy US-led airstrikes, and the Kurds, backed by some Syrian rebels, eventually retook the town in January after months of fierce fighting.
Also overnight, IS seized two neighborhoods in Hasaka, SOHR said, after fighting that killed at least 30 government troops and allied militia members, as well as 20 IS members and two civilians. The state-run SANA news agency denied that IS had gained a foothold in the city.
Control of Hasaka is split between Kurds and the Syrian regime, but the YPG were not involved in the fighting.
IS has been hit with a series of defeats in Syria since being driven out of Kobane. The YPG and an allied rebel coalition advanced to within 30 miles of Raqaa, IS's self-declared capital, this week, reaching the key Brigade 93 base on Monday night after heavy clashes and then pushing IS out of the nearby town of Ain Issa the following day.
Last week, the YPG also took complete control of Tal Abyad. Another Syrian-Turkish border town, Tal Abyad is less than 60 miles from Raqqa, and had been used by IS to bring in fighters, ammunition, and supplies from Turkey. The jihadists' closest alternative cross-border route is likely now Jarablus.
The YPG-led advance was one of the first positive signs in the fight against IS for some weeks. The strategy to defeat the group in Syria and Iraq had looked shaky after it overran historic Palmyra in Syria and captured Ramadi in neighboring Iraq.
Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, described the two assaults as being in retaliation for recent losses and typical of IS's tactics. "Classic IS strategy unfolding in Northern Syria this morning: to divert Kurds from Raqqa, a three-pronged assault on Kobane and offensive on Hasakah," he said in a Twitter post.
Meanwhile, in southern Syria an alliance of rebel groups including the Free Syrian Army's Southern Front, local al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra, and hardline Ahrar al-Sham launched an attack on government-held Daraa. The offensive, named "Southern Storm", according to a video released today, could have major implications for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government if successful.
It comes after a string of defeats at rebel hands including Idlib city, and Jisr al-Shughour, which many saw as a sign that his hold on the country is weaker than ever.