Turkey retaliates against Syria
Share with others:
BEIRUT -- The Turkish military on Wednesday struck targets inside Syria in the most serious escalation in international tensions since the Syrian revolt erupted 19 months ago.
A brief statement issued by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's office said the Turkish army had hit unspecified Syrian targets in retaliation for a shell fired from Syria that killed at least five civilians in a Turkish border town. "Our armed forces in the border region responded immediately to this abominable attack, in line with their rules of engagement; targets were struck through artillery fire against places in Syria identified by radar," the statement said.
Turkey summoned its NATO allies to an emergency meeting late Wednesday to discuss the incident, and the alliance later issued a statement saying it "continues to stand by Turkey" and urging Syria to cease what it called "such aggressive acts" and "flagrant violations" of international law.
In Washington, the White House also condemned the Syrian shelling and confirmed the United States' solidarity with Turkey. "We stand with our Turkish ally and are continuing to consult closely on the path forward," spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
In a statement issued before the Turkish retaliation, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued an appeal for restraint, warning that the incident demonstrated the risks the Syrian conflict poses in the region. "Syria's conflict is threatening not only the security of the Syrian people but increasingly causing harm to its neighbors," he said.
Though Syrian artillery shells fired in the ongoing fight between rebels and government forces have exploded inside Turkey on several occasions in the past, the incident Wednesday marked the first time that Turkish civilians had been killed. The website of the Turkish daily Today's Zaman reported that the shell killed a woman and four children in the border town of Akcakale and injured at least 13 other people.
The strike culminated months of rising tensions between Turkey and Syria since Syria shot down a Turkish jet in June, killing two pilots over international waters, according to Turkey, and within Syrian territorial waters, according to Syria. Turkey has repeatedly warned that it will retaliate for encroachments on its territory, but this is the first time it has taken action.
Earlier Wednesday, state media reported that three massive bomb blasts in the heart of Syria's commercial capital, Aleppo, had killed at least 31 people and caused widespread damage to a major square. Government forces and rebels have been battling for weeks for control of the city.
The bombs, which apparently targeted a military officers' club, went off in rapid succession shortly before 8 a.m. The club was demolished, and the blasts also tore the facades off several nearby buildings in Saadallah al-Jabri Square, a part of the city tightly controlled by the government.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency, or SANA, attributed the blasts to suicide bombers. It described a major assault in which two suicide bombers detonated cars in the square, after which three suicide bombers approached the scene wearing Syrian army uniforms and explosive vests. The three were killed, it said, without giving further details.
Footage broadcast on state television showed three bodies wearing military uniforms lying on the ground amid piles of collapsed masonry and other debris. Rebels in the city said all of the casualties were members of the security forces, who maintain a heavy presence in the square, but state media said the dead also included civilians.
SANA put the death toll at 34, and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 48 people were killed, most of them soldiers.
The speaker of Syria's People's Assembly, Mohammad Jihad al-Laham, condemned what he called "the horrible terrorist bombings," and said he blamed the countries who are backing the rebels -- usually identified in state media as Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
The triple bombing was typical of a string of attacks carried out in Aleppo and Damascus by Jabhat al-Nusra, a militant group that has adopted many of the tactics used by al-Qaida-affiliated extremists in Iraq.
Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, a Free Syrian Army spokesman in Aleppo said the area was a legitimate target because the government had turned it into "a big military barracks." High-ranking officers directing the fight in the city were living at the officers' club, and two government-owned hotels damaged in the blast were being used to accommodate Syrian and Iranian intelligence operatives, Mohammed al-Halbi said.
The opposition has frequently claimed that Iranians are fighting alongside Syrian soldiers in the effort to crush the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad's rule, and Iran recently admitted that it is supplying advisers to help the government.
Aleppo has been the focus of a bitter and bloody struggle between government forces and the rebels since the Free Syrian Army launched a major offensive there in July. Hundreds have been killed, and tens of thousands have fled their homes, leaving many parts of the city abandoned.
First Published October 4, 2012 12:00 am