At LEAST 500 civilians trapped in the Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobani are likely to be “massacred” if it falls to the Islamic State (IS) group, the United Nations envoy to Syria warned yesterday.
Staffan de Mistura invoked the lessons of 20th century genocides during a news conference in Geneva, as he held up a map of the town along the Syria-Turkey border and said the international community must act to save people caught up in the battle for Kobani.
His warning came as IS pushed into the town from the south and east, taking over most of the “Kurdish security quarter” – where Kurdish militia struggling to defend the town have security buildings and facilities.
The IS onslaught on Kobani, which began in mid-September, has forced more than 200,000 people to flee into Turkey. Activists say more than 500 have been killed in the fighting.
“The city is in danger,” said Farhad Shami, a Kurdish activist in Kobani. He reported heavy fighting to the south and east and said IS was bringing in reinforcements. US-led air strikes appear to have failed to blunt the IS push on Kobani. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said IS now controlled 40 per cent of the town.
The Observatory said an IS suicide bomber blew up his car near the mosque west of the security quarter yesterday, but there was no word of casualties.
The US Central Command said the coalition conducted nine air strikes in Syria on Thursday and yesterday. It said strikes near Kobani destroyed two IS training facilities, as well as vehicles and tanks. Another strike in the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour – controlled by IS – destroyed an IS armoured vehicle staging facility, it said.
The militants shelled Kobani’s single border crossing with Turkey in an effort to seal off the town, a Kurdish official and local activists said. The official, Idriss Nassan, said IS fighters aim to encircle Kobani.
Gunfire and explosions could be heard from across the border in Turkey, and plumes of smoke were seen rising in the distance. The Observatory said IS shelled several parts of the town, including the border crossing.
“Daesh is doing all it can to take the border crossing point east of the city,” Mr Nassan said, using an Arabic acronym for IS. “They think there might be help [for the Kurdish militia] coming through the crossing so they want to control the border.”
In Geneva, Mr de Mistura said only a narrow corridor remains open for people to enter or flee the town. He said 500-700 elderly people and other civilians were still trapped in Kobani while 10,000-13,000 remain stuck nearby, close to the border.
Mr de Mistura invoked the genocides in Rwanda in 1994 – in which 800,000 died as the world looked on – and the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, in which more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were massacred in July 1995, while UN forces stood by.
If Kobani falls to IS fighters civilians “will be most likely massacred,” the Italian-Swedish diplomat, appointed in July, said. “When there is an imminent threat to civilians, we cannot, we should not be silent.”
“You remember Srebrenica? We do. We never forgot. And probably we never forgave ourselves for that,” he added.