FULL REPORT : Turkey hits targets inside Syria after border deaths
JIM MUIR – BBC – BEIRUT – 4-10-2012 The shelling of Akcakale provoked fear and anger – Turkish artillery has renewed firing at targets in Syria after shells from across the border on Wednesday killed five Turkish nationals.Several Syrian troops were killed by Turkish fire, activists from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Turkey’s border town of Akcakala was shelled, apparently by Syrian government forces, on Wednesday, killing a woman and three children. The UN Security Council is due to meet later to condemn Syria’s actions.
Ankara’s response marks the first time it has fired into Syria during the 18-month-long unrest there. Turkey also asked the UN Security Council to take “necessary action” to stop Syrian “aggression”. The request was made by Turkish envoy to the UN, Ertugrul Apakan, in a letter to the current president of the 15-member Council, Guatemalan ambassador Gert Rosenthal. Meanwhile, Nato envoys held an urgent meeting in Brussels at the request of Turkey, who is a member of the military alliance.The bloc issued a statement saying it “continues to stand by Turkey and demands the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an ally, and urges the Syrian regime to put an end to flagrant violations of international law”.
The Nato ambassadors also expressed appreciation for Turkey’s restraint in its response, the BBC’s defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt reports.At the same time, the government in Ankara is expected to ask the parliament shortly to authorise cross-border military operations in Syria, Turkish media report.
The flare-up on Turkey’s border with Syria carries the growing tension between the two countries to a new level.It’s the first time that Turkish citizens have been killed by fire from the Syrian side of the border. And it’s the first time that Turkey has responded, by shelling selected targets inside Syria. Ankara is clearly looking to Nato for solidarity and will doubtless win verbal expressions of support. But at this stage that is unlikely to translate into a move towards joint intervention in the Syrian crisis or support for further escalation of bilateral hostilities. Both countries are strongly endowed with national pride. Syria was unapologetic after its air defences in June fired on a Turkish military jet which crashed into the sea with the loss of two pilots, amidst disputed circumstances.
Much will now depend on how Damascus reacts to the reported Turkish bombardment. Several hours after the reports, there was no word from Syria on the extent of the shelling or any damage or casualties. If neither side is in the mood to carry the exchange further, it may die away now that Turkey has vented its anger in kind, as happens from time to time on the Lebanese border with Israel.But the incident will further envenom an already bitterly antagonistic relationship, creating further grudges that may find eventual expression. The Turkish armed forces have in the past moved into northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish militants who had bases there. Reports quoting unnamed Turkish security officials say Turkey resumed artillery strikes on Syria early on Thursday, targeting the Tel Abyad district, some 10km (6 miles) inside the Syrian border.
Turkey’s territory has been hit by fire from Syria on several occasions since the uprising against Mr Assad began, but Wednesday’s incident was the most serious.
In a statement, the office of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “Our armed forces in the border region responded immediately to this abominable attack in line with their rules of engagement.” Targets were struck through artillery fire against places in Syria identified by radar. “Turkey will never leave unanswered such kinds of provocation by the Syrian regime against our national security,” the statement said.
Syria said it was looking into the origin of the cross-border shelling that hit Akcakale.
Information Minister Omran Zoabi added: “Syria offers its sincere condolences to the families of the victims and to our friends the Turkish people.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu contacted UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the UN’s Syria peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen after the incident.
Mr Ban urged Damascus to respect the territorial sovereignty of its neighbours, saying the cross-border incident “demonstrated how Syria’s conflict is threatening not only the security of the Syrian people but increasingly causing harm to its neighbours”.Mr Rasmussen told Turkey’s foreign minister that he strongly condemned the incident, a Nato spokeswoman said, and continued to follow developments in the region “closely and with great concern”.
Mr Rasmussen has repeatedly said that Nato has no intention of intervening in Syria but stands ready to defend Turkey if necessary.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “We are outraged that the Syrians have been shooting across their border… and regretful of the loss of life on the Turkish side.” Akcakale has been fired on several times over the past few weeks.
The BBC’s Jim Muir says Syrian government forces are attempting to cut rebel supply routes by winning back the border crossing at Tall al-Abyad which the rebels seized last month.Residents have been advised to stay away from the border, and more than 100 schools have been closed in the region because of the violence in neighbouring Syria.
Turkey’s state-owned Anatolia news agency reported that angry townspeople had marched to the mayor’s office to protest about the deaths on Wednesday. Town mayor Abdulhakim Ayhan said: “There is anger in our community against Syria,” adding that stray bullets and shells had panicked residents over the past 10 days. Wednesday’s attack is believed to be only the second time that people have died as a result of violence spilling over the border from Syria into Turkey.
Two Syrian nationals were killed on Turkish soil in April by stray bullets fired from Syria. In Syria itself, at least 34 people were killed and dozens wounded in a series of bomb explosions in the centre of Syria’s second city, Aleppo, on Wednesday. The attacks levelled buildings in the city’s main square. A military officers’ club and a hotel being used by the military bore the brunt of the blasts, some of which were carried out by suicide car bombers.