Kurds gain ground from IS in Syria's Kobani

BEIRUT - Kurdish fighters gained ground from jihadists of the Islamic State group in fierce battles in the Syrian town of Kobani overnight, a monitoring group said on Monday.

The town on the border with Turkey has become a highly symbolic battleground in the war against IS with the US-led coalition launching near daily air strikes in support of its Kurdish defenders.

Kurdish fighters of the People's Protection Units (YPG) advanced in both the east and the northeast of the town, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"At least 18 Islamic State militants were killed in the fighting, as well as a number of Kurdish fighters," the Britain-based group's director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, adding that both sides were using heavy weaponry.

He said control of the town was still almost evenly divided between the Kurds and the jihadists, who began their assault on Kobane more than three months ago.

Once at risk of being overwhelmed by the superior firepower of IS, Kurdish forces have managed to cling on, in part thanks to the coalition air strikes, as well as the deployment of Iraqi Kurdish reinforcements.

The Observatory said the coalition carried out at least five air strikes in Kobane overnight but had no immediate word on casualties.

On another front in Syria's increasingly complex civil war, rebel fighters, including Al-Qaeda loyalists, pressed an assault on a Shiite village further west, which has held out against an 18-month siege, residents said.

Syria's small Shiite minority overwhelmingly supports President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite-dominated regime against the mainly Sunni rebels.

The village of Zahraa is one of two neighbouring Shiite communities along with Nubol where the rebels launched an assault late on Saturday.

The Observatory described the fighting as "the most violent" so far.

"They are attacking the southeast from three surrounding villages they hold," one resident told AFP.

"People in the southeast of the village are fleeing to the centre."

At least eight rebels and one civilian have been killed in the fighting, according to the Observatory, which has a network of sources inside Syria.