Turkey’s army fired across the Syrian border yesterday in response to shelling from Syria that killed five people including three children, marking the first Turkish deaths from cross-border fire.
A woman and her three daughters were killed in Akcakale yesterday along with another woman.
Sanliurfa Province Governor Celalettin Guvenc said three or four Syrian shells fell in the border town.
Hundreds of residents marched to the local governor’s office after the incident, demanding the resignation of town authorities, CNN-Turk said.
“Our armed forces units on the border immediately returned fire within rules of engagement, with artillery units hitting targets detected by radar inside Syria, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office said in a statement. “Turkey will never let such provocations by the regime in Syria go unanswered.”
Syrian leaders have blamed Turkey for aiding rebels who are fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad. The Turkish government, which hosts about 94,000 Syrian refugees, has allowed some opposition fighters to use the country as a base.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters in Washington that “we are outraged” by the attack and called the situation in Syria “very, very dangerous.”
Mrs Clinton said she plans to speak by phone with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu today.
Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said that members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation have responsibilities in the “face of such an attack on a member country.”
It wasn’t clear what other steps Turkey may be planning.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry convened an emergency meeting over the incident. Mr Davutoglu briefed Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations and Arab League special envoy, about the matter, NTV said. He also called UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen to discuss the incident, the ministry said.
NTV also reported that NATO was to convene “urgently” last night over the shelling in Turkey.
Meanwhile, a series of huge explosions tore through the regime-held heart of Syria’s biggest city yesterday levelling major Aleppo buildings and killing scores of people, many of them soldiers.
At least two and possibly three explosions struck the main Saadallah Jabri Square, the seat of a number of important government buildings, along with two government-owned hotels, a military officers’ club, and a telecoms office.
Syria’s state news agency put the death toll at 34. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 48 people were killed.
“This area was where the regime housed many of its officers, and the hotels were full of its soldiers,” said a resident.
State media said the explosions were caused by suicide car bombers.
There were immediate, competing conspiracy theories about whether the government version of events was true.
Turkey hits targets inside Syria after border deaths
Turkey has renewed firing at targets inside Syria after two women and three children were killed by shelling from across the border on Wednesday.
Several Syrian troops were killed by Turkish fire, a UK-based Syrian activist group said.
Syria says it is investigating the shelling in the town of Akcakale.
The Turkish parliament is discussing authorising troops to cross into Syria. But government sources say Turkey is not planning to declare war on Syria.
Akcakale is a district of southern Sanliurfa province, close to the border with Syria
The last published census in 2000 shows its population stood at just over 77,000
It is just under 50km (31 miles) from the Syrian border town of Tall al-Abyad and about 240 km (150 miles) from Aleppo
The area surrounding the town is known for its archaeological excavations
Sources: Turkish Statistical Institute, Sanliurfa Municipality
A government official said the retaliatory shelling – now in its second day – was only a “warning” to the authorities in Damascus.
The UN Security Council is to meet later, following a Turkish request for the body to take “necessary action” to stop Syrian “aggression”.
Nato has held an urgent meeting to support Turkey, demanding “the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an ally”.
The US, the UK, France and the European Union have already condemned Syria’s actions.
Russia, which is allied to President Bashar al-Assad’s government, has asked Damascus to acknowledge officially that the cross-border attack was “a tragic accident” which will not happen again.
In Syria itself as many as 21 members of Syria’s elite Republican Guards have been killed in an explosion and firefight in the Qudsaya district of Damascus, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told the BBC.
Turkish security officials said Turkey resumed artillery strikes on Syria early on Thursday, targeting the Tall al-Abyad district, some 10km (six miles) inside the Syrian border.
Turkey’s shelling of Syrian positions and its calling of an emergency meeting of Nato ambassadors represent a final warning to the authorities in Damascus – a signal that Turkey’s patience has worn thin and that President Bashar al-Assad can expect an increasingly robust response if Turkish territory is fired upon again.
Nato gave strong backing to the Ankara government, just as it did back in June when Syrian forces downed a Turkish reconnaissance jet.
But the early signs are that both Ankara and Damascus have no desire for a protracted conflict. Public opinion in Turkey has not sought Turkish intervention in Syria – though this could change with repeated shelling of Turkish soil.
And President Assad already has enough problems. But the incident inevitably fuels the growing fears of a spill-over of the Syrian crisis into a broader regional conflict.
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.
Ankara’s response marks the first time it has fired into Syria during the 18-month-long unrest there.
The office of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkey would “never leave unanswered such kinds of provocation by the Syrian regime against our national security”.
Parliament in Ankara is meeting in an emergency session in response to a government request for the military to be authorised to launch cross-border operations.
Akcakale has been fired on several times over the past few weeks.
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.
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.
Turkey’s parliament is debating cross-border operations against Syria
Syria’s Information Minister Omran Zoabi offered Damascus’s “sincere condolences to the families of the victims and to our friends the Turkish people”.
Without admitting the shelling, Mr Zoabi said: “The border with Turkey is long, illegal arms trafficking takes place along the border and armed groups move along the border.”
Syria, he said, respected the sovereignty of neighbouring countries.
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.
Hillary Clinton “We are outraged”
The BBC’s Jim Muir in Lebanon says Ankara is not interested in a confrontation and will keep its retaliation to a minimum.
The Turkish armed forces have in the past moved into northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish militants who had bases there.