Turkey fires at Syria after deadly shelling

By Elizabeth A. Kennedy

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 3 2012 2:51 p.m. MDT

Smoke rises over Saif Al Dawla district in Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012. The U.N.'s deputy secretary-general says U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon made a strong appeal to Syria's foreign minister to stop using heavy weapons against civilians and reduce the violence that is killing 100 to 200 people every day.

Manu Brabo, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

BEIRUT — Turkish artillery fired on Syrian targets Wednesday after shelling from Syria struck a border village in Turkey, killing five civilians, sharply escalating tensions between the two neighbors and prompting NATO to convene an emergency meeting.

"Our armed forces at the border region responded to this atrocious attack with artillery fire on points in Syria that were detected with radar, in line with the rules of engagement," the Turkish government said in a statement from the prime minister's office.

The artillery fire capped a day that began with four bombs tearing through a government-held district in Syria's commercial and cultural capital of Aleppo, killing more than 30 people and reducing buildings to rubble.

Along the volatile border, a shell fired from inside Syria landed on a home in the Turkish village of Akcakale, killing five civilians, including some children, and wounding a dozen others according to Turkish media.

The shelling appeared to come from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, which is fighting rebels backed by Turkey.

"Turkey, acting within the rules of engagement and international laws, will never leave unreciprocated such provocations by the Syrian regime against our national security," according to the terse statement from the office of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. was "outraged that the Syrians have been shooting across the border," adding that she would speak with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on the matter.

"It's a very, very dangerous situation," Clinton said. "And all responsible nations need to band together to persuade the Assad regime to have a cease-fire, quit assaulting their own people and begin the process of a political transition."

NATO's National Atlantic Council, which is composed of the national ambassadors, held an emergency meeting in Brussels on Wednesday night at Turkey's request to discuss the cross-border incident. Turkey was likely to receive an expression of support from the alliance, although any imminent move by the NATO members to intervene militarily seems remote. NATO also held an emergency meeting when a Turkish jet was shot down by Syria in June, killing two pilots.

A NATO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of NATO rules, said the meeting in Brussels was being held under a treaty article that states "the parties will consult whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence, or security of any of the parties is threatened."

Turkey, a NATO ally, wants to avoid going into Syria on its own. It has been pushing for international intervention in the form of a safe zone, which would likely entail foreign security forces on the ground and a partial no-fly zone. However, the allies fear military intervention in Syria could ignite a wider conflict, and few observers expect robust action from the United States, which Turkey views as vital to any operation in Syria, ahead of the presidential election in November.

Turkey, which has moved military reinforcements to the border in recent months, has more than 90,000 Syrian refugees in camps along its border, and also hosts Syrian opposition groups.

There is concern in Turkey that the Syrian chaos could have a destabilizing effect on Turkey's own communities; some observers have attributed a sharp rise in violence by Kurdish rebels in Turkey to militant efforts to take advantage of the regional uncertainty.

"This latest incident has caused the glass to spill over too much," said Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc.

"Turkey is a sovereign country. There was an attack on its territory. There must certainly be a response in international law. ... I hope this is Syria's last craziness. Syria will be called into account," he said.

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