SURUC Turkey/BEIRUT - Kurdish fighters defending a Syrian border town warned on Friday of a likely massacre by Islamic State insurgents as the Islamists encircled the town with tanks and bombarded its outskirts with artillery fire.
Turkey said it would do what it could to prevent Kobani, a predominantly Kurdish town just over its southern border, from falling into Islamic State hands but stopped short of committing to any direct military intervention.
US-led forces have been bombing Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq but the action has done little to stop their advance in northern Syria towards the Turkish border, piling pressure on Ankara to intervene.
Esmat al-Sheikh, head of the Kurdish forces defending Kobani, said the distance between his fighters and the insurgents was now less than one km (half a mile).
"We are in a small, besieged area. No reinforcements reached us and the borders are closed," he told Reuters by phone. "My expectation is for general killing, massacres and destruction ... There is bombardment with tanks, artillery, rockets and mortars."
Islamic State has earned a reputation for extreme violence, carrying out widespread killings including beheadings in the Syrian and Iraqi territory it has seized.
Two large clouds of smoke rose up to the east of Kobani and there were several loud explosions from further inside the town as shelling continued and gunfire rang out, a Reuters correspondent on the Turkish side of the border said.
Fighters from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) tried to push the insurgents back, firing missiles lit up by bright red tracers from the town and striking Islamic State targets in a village a few kilometers to the east.
The frontlines between the Kurds and Islamic State, a Sunni Muslim group still commonly known by its former acronyms of ISIS and ISIL, are fluid.
Idris Nassan, deputy foreign minister in a local Kurdish administration, said the YPG had been able to blunt Islamic State gains over the past two days on the southeastern front.
"There are clashes every minute of the day. The YPG pushed ISIS back yesterday in the southeast of Kobani. ISIS were two km from Kobani (to the southeast) but they are now four km," he said. "From time to time there are shells by ISIS that reach the centre of the city. Three hours ago there was a bomb that landed in Kobani. I haven't heard about casualties."
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the eastern, western and southern fronts had not seen significant changes since Thursday, when Islamic State fighters tightened their grip around Kobani.
But that at least 25 shells had hit the town, coupled with heavy clashes on the eastern and southeastern fronts on Friday.