Turkey strikes back after Syrian shelling kills five


THE TURKISH prime minister announced last night night that Turkey had fired artillery at targets in Syria, in retaliation for Syrian mortar fire that fell in a Turkish border town and killed five Turkish civilians.

It was the first instance of significant fighting on the Turkish-Syrian border since the unrest began in Syria last year, and raised the prospect of greater involvement by the Nato alliance, to which Turkey belongs.

“This atrocious attack was immediately responded to adequately by our armed forces in the border region, in accordance with rules of engagement,” a statement from the office of the prime minister, carried by the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency, said.

“Turkey, in accordance with the rules of engagement and international law, will never leave such provocations by the Syrian regime against our national security unrequited,” the statement added.

Nato said it would convene an urgent meeting on the issue. Before firing into Syria, Turkey contacted the United Nations and Nato to protest at the killings and express its “deepest concern”.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said she was “outraged” by the mortar attack in Turkey.

The five Turkish civilians – a woman, her three children and a relative - were killed in the town of Akcakale, and their deaths were the first reported deaths caused by the stray shells that have frequently flown across the border, a Turkish official said.

Angry residents of the town marched to the mayor’s office demanding security measures, Turkish NTV reported. It was unknown whether the mortar shells were fired by Syrian government forces or rebels fighting to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The Turkish response seemed to assume that the Syrian government was responsible.

Meanwhile in Syria multiple car bombs devastated a government-controlled sector of the northern city of Aleppo, delivering a bloody message to Aleppines that they no longer enjoy relative safety under the protection of the army.

The explosions in Saadallah al-Jabri Plaza were followed by firing and clashes between troops and rebels. As many as 48 were reported killed and 100 wounded, mostly civilians. The Ikhbariya state-run television channel showed collapsed buildings and mounds of rubble on the plaza and blamed the blasts on “terrorists”. Al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda-linked group, has claimed responsibility for previous suicide bombings in Aleppo and Damascus.

Nearly a year ago, hundreds of thousands of Syrians flocked to the square to take part in a pro-regime rally; on other occasions regime opponents attempted to transform the plaza into Syria’s Tahrir Square, cradle of Egypt’s uprising.

Until the bombers struck, inhabitants of this area and those who had taken refuge there enjoyed some sense of security, but this has been shattered.

By striking the plaza, the bombers targeted the city’s role as an important commercial and tourism hub. Firms that had been functioning in newly demolished buildings in the wide square could cease operations.

– (Reporting by Michael Jansen and New York Times)