IS jihadists close in on key Syria border town
DAMASCUS - Islamic State group fighters closed in Monday to within only a few kilometres of a key Kurdish town on Syria's border with Turkey, despite continued air strikes by the US-led coalition.
NATO member Turkey's government meanwhile said it would ask parliament to debate joining the coalition against the jihadists operating on the country's doorstep from as early as Thursday.
The alliance carried out fresh raids against IS positions in Syria overnight, but the jihadists still managed to advance within five kilometres (three miles) of the strategic Syrian town of Ain al-Arab, known as Kobane to the Kurds, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based monitoring group said it was the closest the militants had come to the town since they began advancing toward it nearly two weeks ago.
The jihadists fired at least 15 rockets at the town centre, killing at least one person, as they advanced, the Observatory said, adding that other rockets hit the Syrian-Turkish border.
In Ankara, parliamentary speaker Cemil Cicek was quoted by NTV television as saying motions for discussions on Turkey joining the coalition could land with lawmakers on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the motions would be debated on Thursday.
Turkey had refused to join the coalition while dozens of its citizens -- including diplomats and children -- were being held by IS after being abducted in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
After they were freed, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey's position had changed, signalling a more robust stance towards the group.
"We will hold discussions with our relevent institutions this week. We will definitely be where we need to be," Erdogan said on Sunday.
The coalition has been carrying out strikes against jihadists inside Syria for nearly a week, with US and Arab aircraft participating in the raids.
On Monday, the Observatory reported fresh overnight strikes in two northern provinces, Raqa and Aleppo.
In Raqa, which has become the de facto headquarters of IS, the strikes hit outside the provincial capital, with a checkpoint among the targets, the group said.
The coalition also carried out strikes around the town of Tal Abyad on the border with Turkey, hitting a school used as a local headquarters by IS militants, the Observatory said.
But in Aleppo, raids hit a civilian-run mill and grain silos outside the IS-held town of Minbej, the Observatory said, adding that civilians were believed to have been killed.
The strikes also hit a local headquarters belonging to IS outside Minbej, the Observatory added.
Washington began its aerial campaign in Syria on September 23, expanding strikes that began in August against IS positions in Iraq.
So far, the coalition has attracted dozens of countries, though only a handful of Arab allies -- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Jordan -- are participating in the strikes on Syrian soil.
In an interview with CBS News, President Barack Obama acknowledged his administration had underestimated the opportunity that the three-and-a-half year-old Syrian civil war would provide for jihadist militants to regroup and stage a sudden comeback.
"I think our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria," Obama said, referring to his director of national intelligence.
He also admitted Washington had placed too much faith in Iraqi security forces trained and supplied by the United States, which collapsed in the face of a lightning offensive led by IS in June.
The strikes in Syria have targeted both IS headquarters and military installations, but also focused on oil refining facilities in an apparent bid to slash a key source of funds for the group.
The swathe of territory that IS controls straddling northwestern Iraq and eastern Syria includes most of Syria's main oilfields.
Experts say the jihadists were earning as much as $3 million (2.4 million euros) a day from black-market oil sales before the US-led air campaign began.
On Sunday night, the coalition also struck the entrance of the country's main gas plant in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor -- in an apparent warning to IS militants to abandon the facility.
The plant feeds a key power station in regime-held Homs province and several provinces would be left without electricity if it stopped functioning, the Observatory said.