September 30, 2014 / 2:14 PM / 3 years ago

Syrian Kurdish leader fears Kobani massacre if weapons don't arrive

PARIS (Reuters) - A Syrian Kurdish leader called on Tuesday for Western states to provide weapons to his forces fighting Islamic State in the besieged Syrian border town of Kobani, warning that his fighters were outgunned and risked massacre if help did not arrive soon.

Saleh Muslim, head of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has close links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, said that his calls for arms had so far been rebuffed by the United States and European nations, blaming Turkey for obstructing his efforts.

“We are asking everybody who can help us to provide weapons to the people fighting against tanks and artillery, but nobody is doing anything. There will be many who are martyred,” he told Reuters during a diplomatic mission to Europe.

“We have sent messages to the Europeans and the United States, but I think there are obstacles... Turkey and other countries are preventing this because they don’t want the Kurds to be able to defend themselves.”

Turkey, a NATO member with long border with Syria, has so far declined to take a frontline role, fearful partly that the military action will strengthen President Bashar al-Assad and bolster the Syrian Kurdish militants allied to the outlawed PKK in Turkey who have fought for three decades for more autonomy.

This is despite an advance in the past 10 days by Islamic State fighters against the Kurdish YPG forces, the armed wing of the PYD, at Kobani, known as Ayn al-Arab in Arabic, near the frontier that has caused the fastest refugee exodus of the three-year civil war.

The Islamic State has laid siege from three sides to Kobani. The rattle of sporadic gunfire could be heard on Tuesday from across the frontier, and a shell could be seen exploding in olive groves on the western outskirts of town.

”There is heavy fighting,“ Muslim said. ”The Kurdish forces are defending themselves with what they have in their hands to avoid a massacre... but if the Islamic State comes through the city they will destroy everything and slaughter the people.

“In a few days it will be resolved one way or another.”

A steady stream of people, mostly men, were crossing the border post back into Syria on Tuesday, apparently to help defend the town. Muslim said most of them were originally from the area and had returned to defend the city after earlier fleeing to Turkey.

He said that Turkey was preventing some fighters from entering Syria and that there were no Turkish Kurds in Kobani.

Unlike in Iraq, where the U.S.-led air strikes are coordinated closely with the government and Kurdish forces, Washington has no powerful allies on the ground in Syria, making its strategy there riskier and more precarious.

“We have said that we want to be part of the coalition because if they carry out air strikes they will need people to fight on the ground,” Muslim said.

The United States and its Western and Arab allies oppose Assad and are wary of helping him by hurting his enemies. They have said they will support moderate opposition forces that are part of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and its military wing the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to fight Islamic State.

Muslim said his fighters were coordinating efforts to fight Islamic State, although the FSA was not in the Kobani region.

Editing by Dominic Evans

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