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Turkey has fired back at Syria after Syrian mortar bombs killed five people and wounded eight, in a Turkish town near the border, according to senior Turkish officials. NATO convened for an urgent meeting tonight, unilaterally condemning the act.
“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.
Syria offered condolences to the Turkish people, saying it is investigating the incident, Reuters reports. Damascus also said it respects the sovereignty of neighboring countries and urged “states and governments” to act wisely and rationally.
Turkey is now deploying tanks, artillery and missile batteries to the Syrian border, reports Mahir Zeynalov, a journalist with the prominent Turkish newspaper, Today’s Zaman. Zeynalov was citing sources on the ground, who also allege that Turkey continues to heavily shell Syria. Another source told him that Syria fired back, hitting unoccupied land.
NATO’s North Atlantic Council has convened tonight to discuss the shelling of the Turkish town. The meeting has been held under article 4 of NATO code, concerning consultations when a member state feels territorial integrity is under threat, officials say.
In the official statement, NATO urged Syria to put end to “flagrant violations of international law,” saying that it stands by Turkey. “The Alliance strongly condemns Syrian aggressive acts against Turkey,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on his Twitter account.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has condemned the act, saying “we are outraged that the Syrians have been shooting across the border.“
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.
The explosion area is pictured after several Syrian shells crashed inside Akcakale town in Turkey, killing at least five people on October 3, 2012. (AFP Photo)
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. This, and an increasingly volatile situation along the Syrian border, made Istanbul bolster its military presence in the region.