Turkey has fired back at Syria after Syrian mortar bombs killed five people and wounded eight others in a Turkish town near the border, says the Turkish Prime Minister’s office. NATO schedules an urgent meeting to be held later in the day.
“Our armed forces in the border region immediately retaliated against this heinous attack… by shelling the targets spotted by radar,” Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s office said in a statement.
“Turkey will never leave unanswered such kinds of provocation by the Syrian regime against our national security,” the office added. According to Syrian media, Turkish artillery hit targets in the province of Idlib.
Turkey is now deploying tanks, artillery and missile batteries to the Syria border, reports Mahir Zeynalov, a journalist with the prominent Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, citing sources on the ground.
NATO ambassadors are to convene later in the day to discuss the shelling of the Turkish town. The meeting will be held under NATO Article 4, for consultations when a member state feels territorial integrity is under threat, officials say.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has earlier contacted UN Syrian envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon and senior Turkish military officials about the incident, as well as Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO Secretary General.
On Wednesday, at least three bombs fired from Syria hit a residential suburb of the Turkish border town of Akcakale, killing a woman and four children from the same family and wounding at least eight others. This is a second mortar attack on the Turkish town since last Friday. Back then Foreign Minister Davutoglu said he would take action if there were a repeat.
In response to Wednesday shelling, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minster stated that “Syria must be made to account for the incident and there must be a response under international law.” In Akcakale, dozens of angry residents marched to the local mayor’s office to protest the deaths.
The Obama administration said it is “outraged” by the Syrian mortar attack. The US is consulting Turkey on what Hillary Clinton dubbed a “very dangerous situation.” The US State Secretary plans to speak to the Turkish Foreign Minister later on Wednesday.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon also urged Syria to respect the sovereignty of its neighbors in the wake of the deadly shelling. Still it remains unclear whether the bombs were fired by the Syrian government’s forces or by rebels.
NATO on Wednesday also said it strongly condemned the Syrian shelling of Akcakale, a spokeswoman told AFP. “NATO expresses its strong condemnation,” said Oana Lungescu. “NATO continues to follow the situation closely and with great concern.”
Turkey, which hosts over 90,000 Syrian refugees in camps along its border, has been an outspoken supporter of the popular uprising in Syria. Relations between the two countries plummeted after the Syrian military downed a Turkish jet in international waters in June. After that incident, PM Erdogan said any Syrian military officer approaching Turkey border and deemed a threat would be treated as a military target.
The incident with the jet as well as an increasingly volatile situation along the Syrian border made Istanbul bolster its military presence in the region. According to Turkish media, several batteries of ground-to-air missiles, troop carriers and tanks were sent to the border over the summer.