Turkey responds to Syrian shelling

 

Turkish artillery fired towards Syria for a fifth day in a row today, minutes after a Syrian shell landed on Turkish territory.

An Associated Press video journalist witnessed the shell landing some 200 metres inside Turkey, near the border town of Akcakale. A short time later, eight mortars could be heard fired from Turkey.

Town mayor Abdulhakim Ayhan confirmed that Turkish artillery immediately returned fire. He said shrapnel from the Syrian mortar caused some damage to a grain depot, but no one was hurt.

The Anadolu Agency reported that Syrian president Bashar Assad’s forces have been shelling the town of Tal Abyad, just across from Akcakale, which is controlled by Syrian rebels.

The Turks have been returning fire since Wednesday when Syrian shelling killed five civilians in a Turkish border town.

Turkey has vowed to retaliate against the shelling from Syria while Turkey’s parliament this week approved a bill that would allow cross border military operations there. Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned Damascus not to test Turkey’s patience.

Relations between Turkey and Syria, once strong allies, deteriorated sharply after the uprising against Dr Assad began in March last year. Turkey became one of the harshest critics of Assad’s crackdown while Syria accused Ankara of aiding rebels.

Inside Syria today, forces loyal to Assad clashed with rebels across the country, from the northern city of Aleppo to the southern border with Jordan.

Activists said opposition fighters were strengthening their hold over the village of Khirbet al-Jouz, in the northern province of Idlib, which borders Turkey and where violent clashes broke out yesterday.

Anadolu added that rebels had regained full control of Khirbet al-Jouz. It said the Syrian army was forced to “pull back” following an “offensive” by some 700 rebels.

It also reported that Dr Assad’s troops were forced to retreat some 12 miles towards the town of Jisr al-Shughour. It said rebels in Khirbet al-Jouz celebrated their victory by firing their weapons into the air.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces pulled out of two villages in the Idlib countryside near Turkey. In Khirbet al-Jouz, wounded Syrian soldiers were left to fend for themselves after government troops were forced to retreat from the area, the Observatory said.

Turkey’s private Dogan news agency reported that a six-vehicle military convoy, including two carrying howitzers, was seen travelling from the city of Gaziantep toward the Syrian border.

Elsewhere, Syrian troops were widening their offensive to retake rebel-held areas in the northern city of Aleppo and the suburbs of Damascus, as well as the central province of Homs and villages on the southern border with Jordan.

The Observatory said some of the heaviest fighting today was in Aleppo province, where at least three people were killed and scores were wounded when the army pounded the town of Manbaj in Aleppo’s suburbs.

Syria’s defence minister said yesterday that the government is ready to give amnesty to rebels who repent and those who do not “will be crushed under the feet of our soldiers”.

Gen Fahd Jassem al-Freij, who became defence minister in July after his predecessor was assassinated, also claimed that the regime was getting the upper hand. “The most dangerous parts of the conspiracy have been passed and the killing is on its way to decline,” he said.

Damascus denies it is facing a popular uprising, instead blaming the violence on a foreign conspiracy linked to its support for anti-Israeli groups such as Lebanon’s Hizbullah.

Despite his claims of government troops being on the brink of restoring stability, the violence across the country shows no signs of abating. Activists say that more than 30,000 people have been killed since the anti-Assad uprising began.

AP