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Islamic State shells Syrian town

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Syrians watch as fighting intensifies between Syrian Kurds and Islamic State over Kobani. (AP)

Syrians watch as fighting intensifies between Syrian Kurds and Islamic State over Kobani. (AP)

Syrians watch as fighting intensifies between Syrian Kurds and Islamic State over Kobani. (AP)

Islamic State militants have shelled a beleaguered Kurdish town in northern Syria, activists say.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the extremists fired at least 10 rockets on the town of Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, close to the Turkish border.

The militants also fired tank shells and mortars as they try to break the Kurds' hold on the town.

The Observatory said heavy clashes overnight, as well as US-led coalition air strikes on Islamic State positions around Kobani, killed at least 16 militants. At least 11 Kurdish militiamen were also killed in the fighting.

The IS assault sent pillars of smoke billowing into the sky as Kurdish militiamen scrambled to repel the extremists' offensive, activists said.

IS has pushed to the outskirts of Kobani as it presses its weeks-long offensive against the town and its surrounding villages.

The assault has forced 160,000 people to flee across the frontier in one of the biggest single exoduses of Syria's civil war.