A convoy of peshmerga fighters from northern Iraq headed across southeastern Turkey on Wednesday towards the Syrian town of Kobani to try to help fellow Kurds break an Islamic State siege which has defied U.S.-led air strikes.
Kobani, on the border with Turkey, has been under assault for more than a month and its fate has become a test of the U.S.-led coalition’s ability to combat the Sunni Muslim insurgents.
Weeks of air strikes on Islamic State positions around Kobani and the deaths of hundreds of their fighters have failed to break the siege. The Kurds and their international allies hope the arrival of the peshmerga, along with heavier weapons, can turn the tide.
The Kurdish fighters were given a heroes’ welcome as their convoy of jeeps and flatbed trucks, some bearing heavy machineguns, snaked its way for around 400 km (250 miles) through Turkey’s mostly Kurdish southeast after crossing the border from northern Iraq.
The presence of Kurdish forces passing with government permission through a part of Turkey which has seen a three-decade insurgency by local Kurdish PKK militants was an extraordinary sight for many residents.
Villagers set bonfires, let off fireworks and chanted by the side of the road as the convoy passed. Thousands took to the streets of the border town of Suruc, descending on its tree-lined main square and spilling into side streets, some with faces painted in the colors of the Kurdish flag.
“All the Kurds are together. We want them to go and fight in Kobani and liberate it,” said Issa Ahamd, an 18-year-old high school student among the almost 200,000 Syrian Kurds who have fled to Turkey since the assault on Kobani began.
An initial group of between 90 and 100 peshmerga fighters arrived by plane amid tight security in the nearby city of Sanliurfa early on Wednesday, according to Adham Basho, a member of the Syrian Kurdish National Council from Kobani.
Saleh Moslem, co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), said the peshmerga were expected to bring heavy arms to Kobani – known as Ayn al-Arab in Arabic.
“It’s mainly artillery, or anti-armor, anti-tank weapons,” he said. The lightly armed Syrian Kurds have said such weaponry is crucial to driving back Islamic State insurgents, who have used armored vehicles and tanks in their assault.
Kurdistan’s Minister of Peshmerga, Mustafa Sayyid Qader, told local media on Tuesday that no limits had been set to how long the forces would remain in Kobani. The Kurdistan Regional Government has said the fighters would not engage in direct combat in Kobani but rather provide artillery support

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