Islamic State fighters backed by tanks have seized 16 Kurdish villages in northern Syria over the past 24 hours in what is being described as a major advance for the extremist group, according to a human rights watchdog group.

The Associated Press quotes the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as saying there were casualties on both sides and that the takeover has prompted fears that the Islamist rebels "will commit massacres against civilians."

The report comes hours after House lawmakers, in a rare display of bipartisanship, voted to authorize a White House plan to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels to enlist in the fight against the self-described Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. The vote came after President Obama reiterated his pledge not to wade into another ground war in Iraq.

The Senate is expected to vote today on the authorization measure, part of a stopgap spending bill to keep government operations going through the rest of the year.

Meanwhile, Australian authorities say they've arrested 15 people linked to the Islamic State group and foiled a plot to conduct a "random" public beheading in the country.

The Sydney Morning Herald calls it the largest counterterrorism operation in Australia's history, involving arrests across Sydney and Brisbane today.

According to the Herald: "police will allege that the suspects were planning to snatch and behead a random member of the public, then drape them in the flag of the Islamic State, also known as ISIL."

The newspaper quotes Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott as saying that a senior member of the Islamic State, who is himself Australian, had urged supporters to conduct "demonstration killings" in the country.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit