WASHINGTON/ISTANBUL – Ankara returned fire after Syrian mortar bombs landed in a
field in southern Turkey on Saturday.
Saturday was the fourth day of
Turkish retaliation for firing by Syrian forces that killed five Turkish
civilians on Wednesday.
On Friday, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan warned
Damascus that Turkey would not shy away from war if provoked.
exchanges are the most serious cross-border violence
in Syria’s conflict. They
highlight how the crisis could destabilize the region.
was once an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad but turned against him after
his violent response to an uprising in which more than 30,000 people have died,
according to the UN.
Turkey has nearly 100,000 Syrian refugees in camps
on its territory, has allowed rebel leaders sanctuary and has led calls for
Assad to quit. Its armed forces are far larger than Syria’s.
on Friday his country did not want war but warned Syria not to make a “fatal
mistake” by testing its resolve. Damascus has said its fire hit Turkey
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Saturday
that parliament’s authorization of possible cross-border military action was
designed as a deterrent.
“From now on, if there is an attack on Turkey it
will be silenced,” he said in an interview with state broadcaster
The United States expressed strong support for Turkey Friday as it
took military action to respond to Syrian attacks on its border.
certainly stand behind Turkey as they take that action, because we believe that
action is appropriate,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said when asked about
the flare-up between the two countries.
NATO has passed a resolution
condemning the violence, as did the UN Security Council.
But UN Security
Council permanent member and Syria ally Russia has called for restraint on the
part of Turkey, as has Iran.
Earnest referred to Turkey’s actions as
“designed to ensure that their sovereignty is no longer violated by Syrian
Davutoglu said international mediator on Syria Lakhdar
Brahimi would come to Turkey before Russian President Vladimir Putin visits
Ankara within the next 10 days.
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby called
Brahimi’s Syria mission “virtually impossible,” in a newspaper
Asked about the efforts of the Egypt-Saudi-Turkey-Iran quartet
to solve the crisis, Elaraby said: “The solution must comprise Iran. The
important thing is that matters get moving.”
Rebels in the Syrian city of
Aleppo said government troops tried to storm the Sakhour district on Saturday
but were pushed back after heavy clashes.
Activists across Syria said
there was fighting in several cities and towns including the central city of
Homs and in countryside near Damascus.
The British-based Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights said at least 60 people, including 36 government
soldiers, were killed across the country on Saturday in clashes.
rebel forces are riven by divisions but Syrian government forces appear to lack
the numbers to land a knockout blow and permanently hold rebellious
Iran on Saturday called for the immediate release of Iranians held
captive by Syrian rebels and said it would hold the rebels and their supporters
responsible for their lives.
Syrian rebels seized a busload of 48
Iranians in early August on suspicion of being military personnel. Tehran says
they were pilgrims visiting a Shi’ite shrine in Damascus.
At least three
rounds fired from Syria landed inside Turkey’s Yayladagi district on Saturday,
the office of the governor of the Turkish province of Hatay said.
the fire appeared to have been aimed by Syrian forces at rebels along the
There were no casualties.
Turkish border troops fired back
mortars in response.
There were two similar incidents in Hatay on Friday,
when Erdogan issued his warning.
“Those who attempt to test Turkey’s
deterrence, its decisiveness, its capacity, I say here they are making a fatal
mistake,” he said in a bellicose speech to a crowd in Istanbul.
not interested in war, but we’re not far from war either. This nation has come
to where it is today having gone through intercontinental wars,” he
Turkish artillery bombarded Syrian military targets on Wednesday
and Thursday, killing several Syrian soldiers after Syria’s initial fatal
The UN Security Council condemned the original Syrian
Russia, a staunch ally of Syria, said it received assurances from
Damascus the strike on Turkey was an accident but Erdogan dismissed them, saying
Syrian fire had repeatedly hit Turkey.Wednesday’s Syrian strike on the town of
Akcakale was of a different magnitude to previous incidents, a Turkish official
“Wednesday was different. There were five or six
rounds into the same place. That’s why we responded a couple of times, to warn
and deter. To tell the [Syrian] military to leave. We think they’ve got the
message and have pulled back from the area.”
Syria has since ordered its
warplanes and helicopters not to go within 10 km. of the Turkish border and
artillery units not to fire shells close to the border, according to Turkish
broadcaster NTV. Syria has not confirmed this.