FSA factions helping Kurds in fight against IS militants

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Islamic State militants suffer heavy losses in Kobane amid coordination between FSA factions and YPG, as Turkey rejects arming Kurds

Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters near Kobane on 17 October (AFP)
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Friday 13 February 2015 2:30 UTC
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The general command of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the military wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) released a statement Sunday affirming its coordination with factions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) throughout Rojava and parts of northern Syria.

“We confirm that there is coordination between us and important factions of the Free Syrian Army in the northern countryside of Aleppo, Afirin, Kobani and Jazeera,” the statement said.

“Currently there are factions and several battalions of the Free Syrian Army fighting battles on our side against ISIS terrorists in Kobani.”

Rojava refers to the Syrian Kurdistan regions in northern and north-eastern Syria, where Kobane is also located. 

According to sources on the ground, coordination between the YPG and FSA factions has been ongoing for a long while.

“Coordination between us has existed for a long time. Today's statement is to confirm our unity and that the defence units of YPG are responsible for protecting all citizens of the Rojava region including the Arabs and Turkmen and not just the Kurds,” Omer Alush, minister of foreign affairs and relations of the Kobane Canton told MEE.

Similar statements were announced last month in a joint statement made by YPG and FSA factions in the Kurdish city of Sari Kani in northern Syria, where they also announced the establishment of a military coordination room together.

“About two months ago, YPG and various factions from the FSA established a military coordination room called al-Furat Volcano. It coordinates all military activity against IS or any other entities that threaten the area, including the Syrian regime,” Alush said.

Kobane-based journalist Bazan Iso confirms these reports.

“Many FSA groups, especially the secular factions have come to the Kurdish areas to fight against IS. It has been six months since the YPG and FSA started coordinating and working together," said Iso.

“On 6 October about a thousand FSA fighters crossed into Kobane from Turkish borders to join YPG’s fight against IS,” he added.

A video posted online Saturday allegedly shows a brigade aligned with the FSA claiming to have taken control of parts of Kobane. The video reportedly shows members of the Northern Sun Battalion, an FSA group, inside the industrial sector of the town.

Fighting intensified Saturday in the besieged Kurdish town as US-led coalition warplanes struck suspected IS targets at least six times after the fiercest shelling in days by the militants hit border areas within Turkey, Reuters news agency reported.

“There is a need for the continuation of the coalition’s airstrikes. Even if a ground offensive were to take place, the airstrikes must continue,” Alush said.

IS militants were taking heavy losses Kobane on Sunday.

From Saturday into Sunday morning, a total of 31 militants died in the battle, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that on Friday, IS lost 35 of its fighters.

The front line remained unchanged on Sunday, a Kurdish official told AFP.

Turkey refuses to arm Kurds

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday rejected calls for Turkey to arm the main Kurdish party in Syria, describing the group as a terrorist organisation. 

"There has been talk of arming the PYD to form a front here against the Islamic State. For us, the PYD is the same as the PKK, it's a terrorist organisation," Erdogan said aboard a plane returning from Afghanistan. 

Turkey refuses to rearm Kurdish fighters, as it views the YPG with suspicion for its long-standing links with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a 30-year armed campaign for self-rule in Turkey. The Syrian group however rejects claims of its links with the PKK.

Earlier this month Erdogan also said the PKK was no better than the Islamic State in his view.

French President Francois Hollande last week called on Turkey to open its border to allow reinforcements to reach Kobane while the PYD itself called on Turkey to allow its territory to be used for transferring weapons. 

“We can get rid of IS if we are provided by coalition with the required support and ammunition. We need a corridor connecting the different Syrian Kurdish regions and Turkey to coordinate with us,” Alush told MEE.

The United States said on Thursday it held direct talks for the first time with the PYD.

Turkey has been a somewhat reluctant member of the coalition, insisting it must also confront Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to end a civil war which has killed some 200,000 civilians since March 2011. Ankara accuses the PYD of not working to oust Assad.

"They are complicit in the crimes committed by the Syrian regime," Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at a press conference in Ankara. 

"We would have a different attitude towards the PYD and Kobane" if the PYD had kept its promises to work to topple Assad, he said. 

Earlier this months, reports revealed that while FSA battalion, Revolutionaries of Raqqa Brigade, joined the Kurdish battle in Kobane against IS, other FSA factions refuse this partnership alleging that the PYD are allies of the Assad government.

Kurdish militants fighting alongside forces loyal to Assad have signalled the presence of an alliance between the Kurds and the Syrian military.