Iraqi Kurdish Forces Enter Syria

(Reuters) -

A first group of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters entered the besieged Syrian town of Kobani on Thursday to help push back the Islamic State who have defied U.S. air strikes and threatened to massacre its Kurdish defenders.

Kobani, on the border with Turkey, has been encircled by the Sunni Muslim insurgents for more than 40 days. Weeks of U.S.-led air strikes have failed to break their stranglehold, and Kurds are hoping the arrival of the peshmerga will turn the tide.

The siege of Kobani — known in Arabic as Ayn al-Arab — has become a test of the U.S.-led coalition’s ability to stop Islamic State’s advance, and Washington has welcomed the peshmerga’s deployment. It has intensified its air strikes in the past two days ahead of their arrival.

A first contingent of about 10 peshmerga fighters arrived in Kobani from Turkey to prepare the way for a convoy equipped with heavy weapons, but gunfire and shelling by Islamic State fighters on the border area appeared to be causing delays.

“ISIL has intensified its attacks on the border gate after the news of the peshmerga’s arrival … and the clashes have been fierce,” Idris Nassan, deputy foreign minister of Kobani district, told Reuters by telephone from Kobani.

Around 100 peshmerga fighters arrived by plane in southeastern Turkey on Wednesday, joined later that night by a land convoy of vehicles carrying arms including a cannon and truck-mounted machine guns.