Middle East Updates / Fighting intensifies near Kurdish town of Kobane in Syria

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6:38 A.M. Iraq is considering Australia’s request to launch airstrikes against Islamic State targets, Iraqi envoy to Australia said on Thursday, but gave no timetable for when his government might reach a decision.

Australia has six F/A-18F Super Hornet jet fighters waiting on standby in the United Arab Emirates for final authorization to begin combat missions with the U.S.-led coalition.

“We are seriously considering the request from Australia,” Ambassador Mouayed Saleh told The Associated Press.

He said a decision could be made Thursday, the last working day before Independence Day and a weeklong holiday. But it might not be made until after the holiday, he said.

Australia’s Cabinet was waiting for the Iraqi response before it can formally commit to a combat role.

The Australian government can commit troops without asking Parliament, which sits for the last day on Thursday before a two-week break.

Two unarmed Australian air force planes — an E-7A Wedgetail surveillance and communications jet and a KC-30A refueling plane — joined operations over Iraq from the al-Minhad Air Base outside Dubai for the first time on Wednesday in support roles, the air force said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Thursday that these support missions would continue.

“We, at this stage, are not flying strike missions, but in coming days the government will be making further decisions,” Abbott told reporters.

Australia’s intention is to work with allies to disrupt and degrade “the ISIL death cult because this hasn’t just declared war on the people of Iraq, it’s effectively declared war on the world, including Australia,” he added.

The government says the number of Super Hornets, which were deployed two weeks ago at the request from Washington, could soon be increased to eight.

The Australian deployment also includes a 200-strong ground force, including special forces, to advise security forces inside Iraq, plus 400 air force personnel.

Abbott has restricted combat operations to Iraq and has ruled out Australian troops fighting on the ground. Saleh said that foreign ground troops were not wanted. (AP)

5:53 A.M. The fight for the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobane geared up early Thursday as Islamic State militants advanced, a monitoring group said.

“Fighting intensified at dawn Thursday between Islamic State militants and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) at western outskirts of the city of Kobane, prompting the YPG to withdraw from the area to the outskirts of the city, while militants advanced,” the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The watchdog said the YPG and other Kurdish fighters were preparing for street battles amid fears that the Islamic State militants might commit massacres if they take the city.

The observatory said that additional fierce fighting was taking place in the eastern and southern parts of the city, which was being shelled by Islamic State militants.
The observatory said Islamic State fighters “have not yet stormed the city, as some media outlets close to the jihadist group reported.”

The two-week jihadist offensive on Kobane, smallest of three Kurdish-controlled areas in northern and north-eastern Syria, has displaced more than 200,000 civilians, according to the observatory

The United Nations said as many as 400,000 people could be forced to flee to Turkey if the enclave falls. (DPA)