Ten Iraqi Kurd Peshmerga fighters have entered the besieged Syrian town of Kobane on the Turkish border, Syrian opposition activists say. Dozens more are expected to join them in helping Syrian Kurds defend the strategic town against Islamic State (IS) militants. Turkey finally authorised the Iraqi Kurds to cross the border last week.
Some 150 Iraqi Kurds are waiting to travel from Turkey to Kobane, which has been under siege for six weeks.
The arrival of the first Peshmerga comes a day after a group of Syrian Arab rebels entered the town also to fight against IS, aided by US-led coalition air strikes. US fighters and bombers have carried out 10 air strikes on Kobane since Wednesday, US Central Command said.
Another two air strikes by US forces damaged an IS headquarters building near Deir ez-Zor and a security building near Raqqa.
While the strikes have held IS militants back, the BBC’s Jiyar Gol says that Syrian Kurds - the People’s Defence Units (YPG) - are hopeful the arrival of Iraqi Peshmerga will help turn the tide in fighting. IS militants mounted unsuccessful attacks overnight on a border crossing and an entry and exit point into Kobane.
The first group of Peshmerga fighters entered Kobane at noon local time (07:00 GMT), with the rest expected to join them “in the coming hours,” the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports.
“That initial group, I was told, is here to carry out the planning for our strategy going forward,” Meryem Kobane, a YPG commander, told Reuters news agency.
“They need to make preparations so the Peshmerga will be positioned according to our needs.”
The Peshmerga arrived at an army base in Suruc, Turkey, in two groups on Wednesday. Fighters arrived by plane from Iraq and a convoy of lorries brought heavy weapons.
Syria has condemned Turkey’s decision to allow Iraqi fighters to transit through, describing it as a “blatant violation” of its sovereignty, according to state TV.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel admitted on Thursday that air strikes on IS militants could benefit Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who also deems them a threat.
However, Mr Hagel insisted that the removal of Mr Assad from power remained a US objective.
In an unexpected shift last week, Ankara succumbed to US pressure to allow Kurds through to join the conflict in Syria. The Turkish authorities have been facing a decades-long insurgency by their own Kurds.
The battle for Kobane has emerged as a major test of whether the air campaign can push back IS but the Kurdish defenders - thought to number between 1,000 and 2,000 - have appealed for heavy weapons to defeat the militants.
Activists say the battle for Kobane has so far left 800 people dead and forced more than 200,000 people to flee across the Turkish border.
IS has declared the formation of a caliphate in the large swathes of Syria and Iraq it has seized since 2013.