Turkish lawmakers were on Thursday voting on a motion which would pave the way for military action against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria and allow foreign forces to launch missions against the jihadists from Turkish soil.
Turkey, which has land borders with both Iraq and Syria, has so far ducked a major role in a broad US-led anti-IS coalition, seemingly because IS held a large number of Turkish citizens — including diplomats and children — hostage after capturing them in Iraq's second city of Mosul. The captives have now been released, however, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made it clear that his position had changed, saying Turkey "cannot stay out of this campaign" at a World Economic Forum meeting in Istanbul on Sunday.
However, it is still unclear what action it might take after these powers — an expansion of previous approval to launch cross border operations if threatened by Kurdish militant groups or Syrian government troops — are granted, and officials have been vague on the details. The motion is likely to pass as the ruling AKP Party has a majority in parliament.
Erdogan has proposed that a buffer zone and no-fly zone be created inside Syria, both to secure Turkey's southern border and help stem the flow of Syrians seeking refuge in Turkey. Turkey has been a staunch opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since an armed uprising developed in response to his brutal suppression of peaceful anti-government protest.
The decision comes as IS continue a major offensive against the majority Kurdish Syrian town of Kobane (also known by its Arabic name of Ayn al-Arab), which is just meters from the Turkish border. IS is now controls villages in the surrounding area and monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on Thursday that Kurdish YPG fighters had clashed within IS just a few hundreds meters east and southeast of the city itself. Local activists also say that the situation is increasingly desperate for the largely outgunned Kurds.
SOHR, which gathers information from a network of local sources said on Wednesday that IS had beheaded six male and three female YPG fighters after capturing them in the fighting, AP said. Images showing the women's severed heads apparently in IS-held Jarablous, Syria were subsequently posted on social media channels.
The reports could not be independently verified, but a YPG fighter being treated in a Turkish hospital after being injured defending Kobane told VICE News and two other reporters last week that he had found decapitated corpses in areas which had been seized by IS. "In one village, I saw 17 bodies with no heads... one was a child, one was a woman, and the rest were men."
The French defense ministry said on Wednesday that three Dassault Rafale aircraft and an anti-aircraft frigate would be dispatched to the Gulf. France was the first country to join the US in a series of aerial attacks on IS targets in Iraq, and the new arrivals will join the existing United Arab Emirates-based force of six Rafales and two support aircraft that have launched two attacks on IS positions so far.
Also on Thursday, Iraq's ambassador to Australia said that it was still considering an Australian request to begin airstrikes on IS in the country. Mouayed Saleh told the Associated Press that a decision might be made immediately, but could also be deferred until after a weeklong holiday which begins on Friday. Eight Australian F/A-18 aircraft are currently in the UAE in preparation for strikes and two unarmed planes have already begun operating over Iraq in surveillance and aerial refuelling roles.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Thursday that the government would be making further decisions about flying strike missions in the coming days, but vowed to bring the fight to IS, telling reporters: "Our intention is to work powerfully with our allies to disrupt and degrade the ISIL death cult because this hasn't just declared war on the people of Iraq, it's effectively declared war on the world, including Australia."
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