As coalition strikes by air, Kurds fight ISIS in Syrian border town

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Story highlights

  • ISIS fighters still control parts of Iraq despite U.S.-led coalition airstrikes
  • Turkey sets up more checkpoints as Kurds flock to cross border into Syria
  • A Kurdish enclave in Syria on the border with Turkey is under siege by ISIS
  • U.S.-led coalition airstrikes hit Kobani and kill five ISIS fighters, group says
Fighting over ISIS's attempt to seize the Syrian town of Kobani on the border with Turkey remained at a stalemate Saturday, with Kurdish fighters claiming they were fending off the Islamic militants' siege.
The battle over Kobani, an enclave for Kurds, is significant because ISIS is trying to claim a vast swath of land from its self-declared capital of Raqqa, Syria, on the Euphrates River to the Turkish border, more than 60 miles away.
U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in northern Syria killed at least 35 ISIS extremists Saturday, including five in Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, said the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group that collects casualty information.
The other 30 ISIS fighters were killed in in the town of Shadadi in the Hasakah province, which is about a 35-mile drive south of Kobani, the monitoring group said.
On the Turkish side of the border at Mursitpinar, checkpoints were more numerous than usual, and many people were said to be trying to cross the border to enter Kobani to help their fellow Kurds fighting against the ISIS militants.
At one point, however, the crowds were dispersed when tear gas was used, witnesses told CNN.
A water cannon was observed by CNN to be firing at random people. The smell of tear gas was also in the air.
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Across the border, in Kobani, the air had cleared of smoke that was evident in earlier fighting this week. Witnesses told CNN that several mortars landed on the Turkish soil Saturday, continuing a daily shelling.
Kurdish fighters
Alan Minbic, a fighter with the Kurdish People's Protection Unit, or YPG, said ISIS maintained control Saturday of the southwest corner of Kobani, but YPG snipers held off an ISIS attempt to seize a strategic ridge overlooking Kobani.
Mustafa Abdi, a media activist in Kobani, confirmed Minbic's account.
In the overnight hours, clashes continued on the western side of Kobani, around an area called Tal Shair, which ISIS controls, Minbic said.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu vowed to help the Kurdish fighters defend Kobani from ISIS, also known as ISIL and the Islamic State.
Thousands of civilians have fled the predominantly Kurdish city in northern Syria in recent days as ISIS forces apparently are seeking to create a direct route to the Syria-Turkish border.
The Sunni extremist group's reported entry into the city on Friday came a day after Turkish lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to authorize military force against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Australia decided hours later to join the U.S.-led air campaign against ISIS in Iraq.
"We wouldn't want Kobani to fall," Davutoglu said. "We welcomed our brothers who came from Kobani. We'll do whatever we can to prevent this from happening."
ISIS in Iraq faces U.S.-led airstrikes
For months, ISIS has been advancing, capturing portions of northern and eastern Syria and western and northern Iraq for what it says is its new Islamic state, or caliphate.
In an effort to damage ISIS's movements, the U.S.-led coalition continued to bomb ISIS targets.
In all, the coalition conducted nine airstrikes Friday and Saturday against ISIS targets in Syria, U.S. Central Command said. The forces used fighter aircraft and drones, CentCom said.
The coalition carried out five airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, officials said.
Recent airstrikes in the Kirkuk area have killed nine people and injured 16 more, but it wasn't immediately clear how many of them were ISIS fighters, Iraqi security forces said.
In the Sinjar area, 14 ISIS militants were killed in coalition airstrikes, Iraqi security forces said.
But ISIS still remained in control of several areas, including portions of Hit and Kabisa, Iraqi security officials and witnesses said.
Hit is a town along the Euphrates River about a 115-mile drive from Baghdad.
The airstrikes in Iraq -- northeast of Fallujah, south of Rabiyah, north of Hit and Ramadi -- struck several ISIS targets, Central Command said.
ISIS controls an Iraqi river town
But ISIS militants still controlled much of Hit, where there is no presence of the Iraqi army or local militias, and they also managed to control parts of Mohammadi, about seven mile southeast of Hit, without any resistance from the army or the security forces, according to accounts from witnesses and Iraqi officials.
ISIS militants in Hit burned two police stations inside the city and the local council building, officials and witnesses said Saturday. Coalition fighter jets launched an air strike on Hit bridge, where ISIS militants have been positioned, the officials and witnesses said.
For the third consecutive day Saturday, Hit has seen power outages and a stoppage to power generators because of a lack of fuel, according to witness and official accounts.
In Syria, two of the coalition airstrikes hit south of Kobani and destroyed an armored personnel carrier, a vehicle and a small unit, all belonging to ISIS, Central Command said. Two strikes east of Kobani destroyed a vehicle, a building, three artillery positions and a large unit, all belonging to ISIS.
Southwest of Ar Raqqah, a coalition airstrike damaged the Taqba Airfield, and another west of the same city destroyed an ISIS artillery piece, CentCom said.
Two strikes southeast Deir Ezzor destroyed an ISIS tank and an ISIS vehicle, and a strike south of Al Hasakah destroyed an ISIS depot and logistics complex, Central Command said.
Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates participated in the coalition airstrikes.
All of the coalition aircraft involved returned safely.
American held hostage by ISIS
On Saturday, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said that the death of British aid worker Alan Henning at the hands of ISIS was "absolutely abhorrent" and "completely unforgivable."
A short video released by ISIS on Friday appeared to show Henning's beheading, with the killer blaming the death on the United Kingdom for joining the U.S.-led bombing campaign against the group.
In that same video, ISIS threatened the life of hostage Peter Kassig, an American aid worker.
Kassig's family released a YouTube video Saturday asking his captors to show mercy and free him.
Referring to him as Abdul-Rahman -- a first name his family says he took, having converted to Islam while being held hostage -- father Ed Kassig said: "We implore his captors to show mercy and use their power to let our son go."
Peter Kassig, 26, first went to the Middle East as a U.S. soldier and returned as a medical worker, feeling compelled to help victims of war.
A native of Indiana, Peter Kassig founded Special Emergency Response and Assistance in 2012, a nongovernmental organization aiding Syrians fleeing the civil war there. In summer 2013, he moved its base of operations to Gaziantep, Turkey.
Since 2012, he delivered food and medical supplies within and outside Syria and provided trauma care and training, his family said.
But on October 1, 2013, he was "detained" on his way to Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria while performing a project for SERA, his family said.