Islamic State (Isil) jihadists launched major attacks in northern Syria yesterday in a swift counter-offensive after a string of recent battlefield defeats.
They stormed government-held areas in Hassakeh, a mostly Kurdish city, and set off deadly car bombs as they pushed back into a border town they were expelled from earlier this year.
The other push was into the Syrian border town of Kobane, which famously resisted a months-long assault by the jihadists before they were driven out in January, and surrounding villages.
An activist group said 12 people died in fighting yesterday in Kobane - the first time in six months that Isil had managed to enter the town along the Syria-Turkey border - and that the militants had detonated three car bombs.
In the Kobane attack, which was launched from the town's southern and western parts, the Isil jihadists donned Syrian rebel uniforms and carried flags of the mainstream Free Syrian Army to deceive the town's Kurdish defenders, said Redur Khalil, a spokesman for the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG.
Speaking about Hassakeh, Khalil said Isil jihadists attacked government-held neighbourhoods on the southern edge of the city, and captured some areas.
Syrian state TV reported intense clashes inside Hassakeh's southern neighbourhood of Nashawi.
According to the report, Isil fighters killed several people they captured in the city, including the head of a military housing institution.
It said the militants sustained many casualties, including the commander of the group, who is a foreign fighter. An activist group said many people in neighbourhoods engulfed in the fighting fled to safer areas in the city.
Isil tried to storm the city earlier this month and reached its southern outskirts before facing strong resistance from Syrian government troops, who pushed them away.
The Hassakeh and Kobane attacks came just days after YPG fighters and their allies captured the Islamic State stronghold of Tal Abyad on the border with Turkey and the town of Ein Issa to the south. Kurdish fighters have been advancing since January under the cover of air strikes by the US-led coalition.
But in neighbouring Iraq, government forces and allied Shia militiamen have been slow in retaking Isil-held territory. The Iraqis have also suffered occasional losses.
Iraqi troops drove Isil militants from Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit in April, but lost Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province west of Baghdad, last month.
In June last year, Isil launched a blitz, capturing large parts of both Syria and Iraq, and subsequently declared an Islamic caliphate on the territory it controls.
A major Isil attack was widely expected during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began last week.
In an unverified audio message on Tuesday, Isil spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, urged Sunni Muslims to use the time of piety and dawn-to-dusk fasting during Ramadan to wage jihad and seek martyrdom.
"Attack them everywhere and shake the ground beneath them," he said.