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Islamic State crisis: Rebel troops 'boost Kobane defence'

Some 80 vehicles carrying heavy weapons and Iraqi Kurdish fighters crossed into Turkey after dawn, as Jim Muir reports

Up to 200 Syrian rebels have arrived in Kobane to help defend the northern border town against Islamic State (IS) militants, a Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander there has told the BBC.

All were fighting under the flag of the Western-backed FSA, he said.

The news came as about 150 Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters arrived in Turkey on their way to the town.

Syrian Kurds have been under siege in Kobane for six weeks, aided by US-led coalition air strikes.

The battle has emerged as a major test of whether the air campaign can push back IS, but the defenders - thought to number between 1,000 and 2,000 - say they also need heavy weapons to defeat the militants.

Separately, IS militants took control of parts of an oil and gas field in Shaer in central Syria's Homs province, killing 30 members of pro-government forces, activists from the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) and government sources reported.

Analysis: Jim Muir, BBC News, Beirut, Lebanon

The arrival of Kurdish Peshmerga forces from Iraq, and of Arab rebels from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), reflects a determination by the US-led anti-IS coalition not to let Kobane fall.

Turkey, America's Nato ally which controls access to Kobani, won't let Syrian or other Kurdish volunteers cross to join the struggle with the Kurdish defenders of Kobane. It regards the latter - the YPG or People's Defence Units - as terrorists, being an offshoot of the Turkish Kurdish PKK movement.

But Ankara has been under big pressure to allow some kind of reinforcements, to avoid a symbolic defeat of the coalition effort at Kobane.

Turkey has a close relationship with the Iraqi Kurdish KDP, the predominant faction in Iraqi Kurdistan, and with the FSA groups it is allowing to cross.

Their impact may take some time to be felt, but the arrival of the heavier weaponry brought by the Iraqi Kurds may have an effect greater than the numbers of fighters involved, who will play a support role rather than front-line combat.

Fighting in and around Kobane has been going on for six weeks
Some 80 vehicles carrying heavy weapons and Iraqi Kurdish fighters crossed into Turkey after dawn
They were welcomed by Turkish Kurds as they drove west towards Kobane
They will meet up with another group who arrived by air overnight

An FSA commander in Kobane, Col Abdul Jabbar al-Oqaidi, told BBC Arabic that "around 200 fighters" had entered the besieged town to provide support to the defenders.

He implied that more were ready to go, saying this was the first group and "we can't let all fighters in one go".

SOHR activists estimated that about 50 FSA fighters had arrived in Kobane.

However, a spokesman for the Kurdish People's Defence Units (YPG), denied any new arrivals of FSA forces in the town, saying that there were already about 200 FSA fighters there.

Relations between the Syrian rebel groups and the main Syrian Kurdish parties have long been strained, after the Kurds avoided taking sides after the start of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011.

Meanwhile a group of Peshmerga fighters landed in the early hours of Wednesday at Sanliurfa airport in south-eastern Turkey and are now reportedly at an army base in Suruc, some 16km (10 miles) from Kobane.

Just after dawn, a convoy of lorries carrying weapons and more fighters crossed by land through the Habur border crossing further east and are now driving towards Suruc.

The two groups are expected to meet later on Wednesday before crossing the border into Syria.

Weeks of air strikes in and around Kobane have allowed YPG fighters to prevent it from falling. But clashes continued on Tuesday and a local Kurdish commander said IS still controlled 40% of the town.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has rejected claims that not enough was being done to end the jihadist assault.

He told the BBC that Turkey would only take part once the US-led coalition against IS had an "integrated strategy" that included action against Mr Assad's forces.

Turkey PM Ahmet Davutoglu: 'We will help coalition forces'

He also noted that Western states were not prepared to send troops.

"The only way to help Kobane, since other countries don't want to use ground troops, is sending some peace-oriented or moderate troops to Kobane. What are they? Peshmerga... and Free Syrian Army," he added.
source: bbc

US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that America would "certainly encourage'' the deployment of Peshmerga forces to Kobane.
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