LATEST: Franciscan Priest Released After 4-Day Abduction But Now Under “House Arrest”

UPDATE 1910 GMT: Idriss Nassan, a Kobane government official, says there have been more than 20 airstrikes on Islamic State positions since Wednesday afternoon.

Nassan also denied claims, spread by a British based “monitoring group”, that the jihadists controlled much of Kobane: “I can confirm that they don’t control a third of the city. There is only a small part of Kobane under the control of Daesh [the Islamic State].”

Nassan asserted that Kurdish fighters managed to regain several town areas on Thursday.

The two sides fought throughout the day for control of a police station.

UPDATE 1100 GMT: A Kurdish official in Kobani, Assi Abdullah, has reiterated that Kurds will not accept Turkish ground forces. Instead, they want Ankara to allow the passage of Kurdish fighters from Turkey into Syria:

We would view Turkey sending its troops without an international decision as an occupation.

Turkey can help in a different way by allowing support to come through its territory. All the talk by Turkey about helping us is still words and not actions.

Anwar Muslim, a lawyer and the head of the Kobani canton, echoed:

We don’t deal with the Syrian regime, and our borders with Turkey have always been quiet.

We wish that Turkey would allow fighters from Qamishli [in eastern Syria, but cut off from Kobane by the Islamic State] to come through its territory and wish it had been earnest about standing by the Kurds against ISIS.

Supporters of Turkey’s Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) gather on the Turkish side of the border, across from Kobane.

UPDATE 0700 GMT: Syrian Kurdish leader Salih Muslim has appealed again to Ankara to allow Kurdish fighters to cross the Turkish border to help the defense of Kobane.

Muslim, the head of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party, held talks with Turkish officials in Ankara last Thursday. The discussions led to the first delivery of Turkish aid, medical equipment sent on Tuesday, but the Erdoğan Government is refusing to allow the free flow of Kurdish fighters without agreement on other measures such as safe havens and a fight against the Assad regime as well as the Islamic State.

Muslim said:

We have our armed fighters in Afrin and Cizre waiting to join the ranks of fighters in Kobane. But, we have to use Turkish territory in order to carry these fighters to Kobane. We asked Ankara to allow them cross the Turkish border.

He added, “They told me that the Islamic State is not only a threat to Syrian Kurds, but also to Turkey and to the people of the region,” but said Ankara had not yet taken “promised steps”.

Turkey’s proposal for “safe havens” inside Syria received some support on Wednesday, with French President Francois Hollande backing the initiative after a phone conversation with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

However, the US and Britain continued to withhold judgement, while saying they would “examine” the idea.

Erdoğan proposed the safe havens earlier this week, amid the growing crisis over the Islamic State’s offensive on the Kurdish center of Kobane, which fuelled an exodus of up to 200,000 Syrians across the Turkish border.

The areas would be given air cover, and Turkey would provide troops for security on the ground — although the Turkish President said he would prefer an international force.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said, after a meeting with British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond in Washington, “The buffer zone…is an idea that’s out there, it’s worth examining, it’s worth looking at very, very closely.”

The idea is likely to be discussed further at a meeting today between President Obama’s envoy on the campaign against the Islamic State, General John Allen, and Turkish officials in Ankara.

But Kerry’s statement appeared to be contradicted within hours by White House spokesman Josh Earnest, “It’s not something that’s under consideration right now.”

And in a further sign of trouble, unnamed US officials lashed out at Ankara in leaks to the media, apparently to blame it if Kobane falls to the Islamic State.

A “senior administration official” said Turkey should send troops across the border and carry out airstrikes: “We can’t have our boots on the grounds. That’s the responsibility of the countries in the region.”

A “senior official” declared, “Of course they could do more. They want the U.S. to come in and take care of the problem.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu responded, following a meeting with head of NATO Jens Stoltenberg: “The Islamic State poses a grave threat to the Iraqi people, to the Syrian people, to the wider region, and to NATO nations. it is important that the whole international community stays united in this long-term effort.”

He said that Turkey is prepared to take on a bigger role once a deal is reached with the US-led coalition: “Turkey will not hold back from carrying out its role.”

A “no-fly zone” has been discussed since 2012 by countries supporting the Syrian opposition, but the Obama Administration has always been reluctant to provide the military support for the idea.

(Featured Photo: Civilians Fleeing the Kobane Area Amid the Islamic State’s Offensive)

Franciscan Priest Released After 4-Day Abduction But Now Under “House Arrest”

Father Hanna Jallouf, a Franciscan priest, has been released after a 4-day abduction in northwest Syria, but is still being held under “house arrest”.

The Franciscan Order said in a statement, “Father Hanna Jallouf has been released this morning…He is under house arrest at the convent of Qunyeh.”

The statement did not mention the fate of about 20 Christian worshippers who were also abducted.

The Order said the hostages were taken by the Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra and accused of being “collaborators” with the Assad regime.

Aid Agencies: Jordan Closes Border to Syrian Refugees

International aid agencies have said that Jordan is refusing to let Syrian refugees cross the border.

“We have not recorded any Syrian refugees crossing into Jordan in the past week,” Andrew Harper, the top official with the United Nations refugee agency in Jordan, said on Wednesday.

The International Organization for Migration said no Syrians had been taken from the border area to refugee camps in Jordan since October 2.

Jordanian authorities denied the claims through Government spokesman Mohammad Momani:

There is no change on our open-border policy. Those who are injured, women and children continue to cross, but the numbers of those entering are subject to the security assessment in the field.

Of the more than 3.1 million registered Syrian refugees, more than 600,000 are in Jordan — a number equal to almost 10% of the country’s 6.5 million population.

Video: Islamic State Tells Turkey’s Erdoğan, “We Will End Your Rule”

An Islamic State video threatens Ankara, telling President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “We Shall Conquer Turkey and Put An End To Your Rule”:

“Back From the Dead” Ahrar al-Sham Threatens Regime Forces & Supply Lines to Aleppo

The insurgent faction Ahrar al-Sham, supposedly near death after many of its senior command were killed by a bomb last month, is leading an offensive seizing territory between Hama and Aleppo.

The capture of villages near main routes is threatening regime supply lines to Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, which has been divided by fighting since July 2012.

Sources confirm Syria Direct’s report that Ahrar al-Sham, joined by other elements of the Islamic Front, has taken villages such as Qashutah, Diyman, al-Barzaniya, and Zeraa. They are fighting for al-Adnaniya, near a regime factory for barrel bombs.

US-Led Coalition Carries Out More Airstrikes Near Kobane; Kurds Holds Lines Inside Town

The US Central Command said that eight more airstrikes, by US and Jordanian aircraft, were carried out near the Kurdish center of Kobane on Wednesday.

The strikes targeted the Islamic State, which has moved into part of Kobane after a four-week offensive. The attacks destroyed five armed vehicles, a supply depot, a command center, a logistics compound, and eight occupied barracks, Central Command said.

Another air raid southwest of Raqqa, the largest city under Islamic State control, destroyed four armed vehicles and damaged two more.

Central Command said there have been a total of 14 attacks since Tuesday. The coalition has been criticized for not moving against the Islamic State as it advanced towards Kobane, taking scores of villages to the west, south, and east of the town.

Kurdish forces reportedly checked the Islamic State’s advance on Tuesday. Kurdish sources inside the town claimed yesterday that the jihadists had been pushed back to the edges of Kobane.

However, US officials — following leaks to the media that Washington did not see the loss of Kobane as a “major concern” — played down the significance of the airstrikes. White House spokesman Josh Earnest, comparing the situation with the pushback in Iraq against the Islamic State said, “That sort of ground operation doesn’t currently exist in Syria right now, and that will limit the effectiveness of the United States military to have the same kind of impact on the situation in Kobane.”

Secretary of State John Kerry said, “As horrific as it is to watch in real time what’s happening in Kobane, it’s also important to remember that you have to step back and understand the strategic objective and where we have begun over the course of the last weeks.”

See Syria Feature: US Officials — “Not Major Concern” If Kobane Falls to Islamic State