ISTANBUL (AFP) - Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants launched a double attack Saturday on a Kurdish-controlled post on the Syrian-Turkish border for the first time, prompting fierce clashes in the adjacent town of Kobane.
Kurdish officials and a Britain-based monitor said the two IS suicide attacks targeting the border post were launched from Turkish soil, claims that Turkish officials dismissed as “lies”.
The attacks sparked fierce clashes between IS and Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces that have been fighting for more than two months to protect the border town of Kobane.
“Clashes broke out for the first time in the area after two jihadist attacks at dawn on the border post separating Turkey and Kobane,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
One suicide attacker blew up an explosive-packed car and another detonated a suicide-bomb belt, according to the Britain-based Observatory.
ISIS Twitter accounts claimed three suicide bombings at the border crossing, the Site Intelligence Group monitor said, although the Observatory and Turkish officials reported two blasts.
ISIS began its assault on Kobane, the third largest Kurdish town in Syria, more than two months ago, but Kurdish fighters backed by US-led air strikes and Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces have so far prevented the town’s full takeover.
The Observatory said 39 people – 28 ISIS extremists and 11 Kurdish forces – had been killed in clashes and strikes in Kobane over the past 24 hours.
The deaths included the ISIS suicide bombers, as well as eight IS fighters killed in air strikes on Kobane.
ATTACK 'FROM TURKISH SOIL'
There were conflicting claims about how Saturday’s bombings were launched, with the Observatory saying the attackers “came from Turkish territory”.
Kurdish officials and activists repeated that claim, but it was strenuously denied by Turkish officials and the military.
“Claims that the car involved in the IS attack on the Mursitpinar border post came from Turkey are lies,” the army said in a statement quoted by Turkish media.
“No statement to that effect has any authority,” it added.
Earlier, another Turkish official said the 5am attacks came on the Syrian side of the border.
Turkey has long dismissed allegations that it has failed to secure its long border with Syria, allowing militants from ISIS and other groups free rein to cross.
YPG forces in Kobane are particularly suspicious of Turkey, which quelled a decades-long autonomy battle by its own Kurdish minority.
ISIS extremists began advancing on Kobane on Sept 16, hoping to capture the small but strategic town to cement their control over a large stretch of the frontier.
The Kurds defending Kobane have been bolstered by strikes by the US-led coalition battling ISIS, but Syria’s foreign minister said Friday the air strikes had failed to dent the militant group’s power.
‘COALITION RAIDS FAILING’ SAYS SYRIA
“Is Daesh (ISIS) weaker today after two months of coalition strikes? All the indicators show that it is not,” Walid al-Muallem told the pan-Arab Al-Mayadeen channel.
Muallem said the strikes would have no impact while Turkey failed to control its border with Syria.
“If the United States and the members of the UN Security Council do not mount a real effort to force Turkey to control its border... even these coalition strikes will not be able to put an end to Daesh,” he said.
Muallem was speaking from Russia, where he was leading a Syrian delegation that met key ally President Vladimir Putin to discuss the relaunch of peace talks with the opposition.
Speaking to Al-Manar, the television station of Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement, Muallem said: “Russia wants an intra-Syrian dialogue without any external interference.”
He said Damascus supported talks, but called on the opposition to reconsider their “previous positions,” a reference to their demand that President Bashar al-Assad resign.
In Iraq, meanwhile, Iraqi forces battled ISIS fighters in Ramadi, where the militants are threatening one of the last pockets of Anbar province still in government hands.
A sheikh leading one tribe supporting government troops reported slow progress.
Parts of Ramadi and all of Fallujah, to its east, have been outside Baghdad government control since the beginning of the year.
Much more of Anbar province has since been seized by ISIS, which spearheaded a sweeping June offensive that overran large swathes of Iraq.