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Ankara approves military operations in Iraq, Syria

By AP - Oct 02,2014 - Last updated at Oct 02,2014

ANKARA — Turkey's parliament approved a motion Thursday that gives the government new powers to launch military incursions into Syria and Iraq and to allow foreign forces to use its territory for possible operations against the Islamic State group.

Parliament voted 298-98 in favour of the motion which sets the legal framework for any Turkish military involvement, and for the potential use of Turkish bases by foreign troops.

Meanwhile, the militants pressed their offensive against a beleaguered Kurdish town along the Syria-Turkey border. The assault, which has forced about 160,000 people to flee across the frontier in recent days, left Kurdish militiamen scrambling Thursday to repel Islamic State extremists pushing into the outskirts of the northern Syrian town of Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab.

Turkey, a NATO member with a large and modern military, has yet to define what role it intends to play in the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS) group.

Parliament had previously approved operations into Iraq and Syria to attack Kurdish separatists or to thwart threats from the Syrian regime. Thursday's motion expands those powers to address threats from IS militants who control a large cross-border swath of Iraq and Syria, in some parts right up to the Turkish border.

Asked what measures Turkey would take after the motion was approved, Defence Minister Ismet Yilmaz said: "Don't expect any immediate steps."

“The motion prepares the legal ground for possible interventions, but it is too early to say what those interventions will be,” said Dogu Ergil, a professor of political science and columnist for Today’s Zaman newspaper.

Ergil said the motion could allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters, for example to use Turkey’s territory to safely cross into Syria, to help Syrian Kurdish forces there, or the deployment of coalition forces’ drones.

The motion comes as the Islamic State group moved closer into Kobani, right across the border from Turkey, despite renewed U.S.-led airstrikes in the area overnight, according to a senior fighter and activist. The United States has been bombing the Islamic State group across Syria since last week and in neighboring Iraq since early August.

Ismet Sheikh Hasan, a senior fighter, said the Kurdish forces were preparing for urban clashes in Kobani in a desperate attempt to repel the militants.

The fight for Kobani has raged since mid-September, sending over 160,000 Syrian Kurds streaming across the Turkish border in one of the worst refugee crisis since the war began over three and a half years ago.

“We are preparing outsides for street battles,” Hasan said. “They still haven’t entered Kobani, but we are preparing ourselves.”

Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group tracking the Syrian conflict, reported that the Islamic State group fighters were, in some cases, just “hundreds of meters (yards)” from Kobani on its eastern and southeast side. The militants were about a mile away on the southern side of town.

In a statement, the Observatory said it had “real fears” that the militants would storm Kobani and “butcher civilians remaining in the city.”

Last week, a US-led coalition seeking to destroy the Islamic State group began bombing the militants’ locations around Kobani. But the airstrikes haven’t halted the militants’ advance, said Hasan.

That included explosions heard overnight around the Kobani area, believed to be caused by US strikes, said Hasan. There was no immediate confirmation from Washington on the latest airstrikes. The strikes were also reported by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group tracking the Syrian conflict.

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