Syria Kurds recapture Kobane after civilian massacre by jihadists
BEIRUT - Kurdish forces drove Islamic State group fighters from the flashpoint Syrian border town of Kobane on Saturday, after a killing spree by the jihadists left more than 200 civilians dead.
Fighters of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) stormed IS's last remaining position, taking full control of Kobane, a powerful symbol of Kurdish resistance.
As they combed the streets looking for fugitive jihadists, the Kurdish fighters found more bodies, taking the civilian death toll to 206, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Local journalist Rudi Mohammad Amin said that more civilians were still unaccounted for.
The jihadists made their last stand in a boys' high school building.
"The YPG detonated explosives outside of the school, then stormed it," Amin said, speaking via the Internet from a position near Kobane, on the border with Turkey.
"This military operation was carried out after ensuring that there were no civilians left in the school."
Amin said he believed all the IS fighters inside were killed.
The jihadists had entered Kobane at dawn on Thursday disguised in YPG uniforms and seized several buildings in the south and southwest of the town.
The YPG soon surrounded the buildings but it took two days to re-establish control.
Some of the civilians were felled in the streets by rocket or sniper fire, others were executed in their homes.
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the bodies found on Saturday bore bullet marks and appeared to include entire families.
"The bodies were found littered in homes and in the streets, laying here and there," he said.
The IS operation was widely seen as vengeance for a series of defeats at the hands of Kurdish militia, particularly the jihadists' loss of Tal Abyad, another border town further east, on June 16.
"IS doesn't want to take over the town. They just came to kill the highest number of civilians in the ugliest ways possible," local journalist Mostafa Ali said on Friday.
A total of 16 Kurdish fighters and 54 jihadists were also killed.
The Observatory chief said that IS had achieved its objective.
"You cannot call this last operation a real defeat for IS, because it did what it wanted to in Kobane," Abdel Rahman said.
In January, Kurdish forces backed by rebel groups and US-led air strikes pushed IS out of Kobane after four months of fierce fighting in a hugely symbolic defeat for the jihadists.
Further east, government forces clashed with IS for a third day in the northeastern provincial capital of Hasakeh.
The fighting largely took place in the city's south, where IS seized control of two neighbourhoods on Thursday.
Kurdish fighters, who share control of the city with government forces, joined the fighting late on Friday.
IS previously attempted to seize Hasakeh last month, but was pushed back by government forces.
According to the UN, 60,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in the city, which had a pre-war population of 300,000.
On Friday, Information Minister Omran Zohbi called on "anyone who is capable of carrying a gun" to the join the resistance to IS in Hasakeh.
"Protecting the city of Hasakeh from the terrorist takfiri (extremist Sunni) attacks is a duty shared among all the sons of the city", Zohbi said.
In the southern city of Daraa, fighting continued between government forces and rebel groups, including Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.
Since Thursday, 60 rebels and 18 government loyalists have been killed in the fighting, as well as 11 civilians.