Islamic State group fighters made a new bid to cut off the Syrian border town of Kobane from neighbouring Turkey on Saturday as preparations gathered pace to deploy Iraqi Kurdish reinforcements.
The Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq unveiled plans on Friday for up to 200 well-trained peshmerga to join Syrian Kurdish forces defending Kobane in the coming week.
Kurdish news agency Rudaw said the first contingent could head to Kobane as early as tomorrow but there was no immediate confirmation of that timetable.
Peshmerga ministry spokesman Halgord Hekmat declined to specify what route the Iraqi Kurdish forces would take, but they are expected to travel overland through Turkey, which has said it will allow them transit.
Since Ankara conceded to US pressure to allow vetted reinforcements into Kobane to prevent IS winning the high-profile battle for the town, the jihadists have made repeated attempts to cut the border before any help can arrive.
Before dawn on Saturday, IS fighters hit Kurdish forces defending the Syrian side of the border crossing with mortar and heavy machine gun fire, an AFP correspondent on the Turkish side reported.
The heavy mortar fire around the Mursitpinar crossing prompted the Turkish army to order the evacuation of nearby hilltops from where the world's press has been watching the battle for the town.
The Kurdish news agency said an initial peshmerga contingent of 150 was ready to leave for Kobane and would be headed by Sihad Barzani, brother of Iraqi Kurdish regional president Massoud Barzani and head of its artillery brigade.
It cited peshmerga officials as saying that an additional 1,000 Iraqi Kurdish fighters would follow. Rudaw quoted a senior peshmerga officer as saying that the Iraqi Kurdish forces would deploy with heavy weapons, but that undertakings had been given to both Ankara and Washington that they would not be handed over to Syrian Kurdish forces.
"Our enemies in Kobane are using heavy weapons and we should have heavy weapons too," he said. The main Syrian Kurdish fighting force in Kobane has close links with the outlawed rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has fought a three-decade insurgency in southeastern Turkey.
Ankara has been adamant that no heavy weaponry should fall into its hands. Turkey has tightly controlled the flow of both fighters and weapons to Kobane and has accepted only Iraqi Kurdish or Syrian rebel reinforcements for the town.