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Men walk past a damaged building in Raqqa, an Islamic State power base in Syria, Sept. 8. (Reuters/Stringer)

Islamic State fighters encircled a Kurdish city in northern Syria near the border with Turkey on Thursday after seizing 21 villages in a major assault that prompted a commander to appeal for military aid from other Kurds in the region.

With the United States planning to expand military action against Islamic State from Iraq to Syria, a surveillance drone was spotted for the first time over nearby Islamic State-controlled territory in Aleppo province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks Syria’s civil war, said.

It was not immediately clear who was operating the drone.

U.S. President Obama last week said he would not hesitate to strike the radical Islamist group that has used Syria as a base to advance its plan to reshape the Middle East according to its radical vision of Sunni Islam.

The United States is conducting air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and last month Obama authorized surveillance flights over Syria.

Islamic State fighters, armed with heavy weaponry including tanks, seized a group of villages near the city of Ayn al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish, in an offensive which the Observatory said had started on Tuesday night.

It said 21 villages had fallen to Islamic State in the last 24 hours as the group advanced on the city.

“We’ve lost touch with many of the residents living in the villages that ISIS (Islamic State) seized,” Ocalan Iso, deputy head of the Kurdish forces in Kobani, told Reuters via Skype.

He said the group was committing massacres and kidnapping women in the newly-seized areas, giving the names of 28 members of a single family he said had been taken captive. It was not possible to immediately verify his account.

The Kurds were appealing for military aid from other Kurdish groups in the region including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), he said. Support from Kurds who crossed from Turkey helped to repel an Islamic State attack on Kobani in July.

The Observatory said there were fears of massacres in the areas seized by Islamic State. “This is a very important advance for them,” Rami Abdulrahman, the Observatory’s founder, told Reuters, speaking by phone.

Footage posted on YouTube on Wednesday by the YPG, the main Kurdish armed group in Syria, appeared to show Kurdish fighters armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades battling a tank flying the Islamic State’s black flag west of Kobani.

Written by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam/Reuters
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