Turkey vows tougher response if Syrian shelling continues
Several Syrian mortars landed in Turkey today. The two countries have exchanged fire for the past week, though Syria says it does not want a military confrontation.
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Latin America Editor
Whitney Eulich is the Monitor's Latin America editor, overseeing regional coverage for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She also curates the Latin America Monitor Blog.
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After a week of cross-border artillery and mortar exchanges between Turkey and Syria in response to Syrian shelling, a top military commander today said Ankara would launch an even tougher response if Syrian shells continue to land in Turkey.
“We retaliated immediately, we also inflicted losses,” a Turkish news agency quotes Gen. Necdet Ozel, chief of the Turkish general staff, as saying about the shelling, which killed five in a Turkish border town last week, reports Bloomberg. “If it continues, we will make a stronger response,” Ozel said.
Ozel didn’t expand on the kind of added force Turkey could use against Syria, but his statement comes almost a week after Turkey’s parliament authorized military offensives into foreign countries, including Syria. And yesterday, NATO said it was drawing up plans to defend Turkey in the case that Syria’s war spilled over the border again, reports Reuters.
“We have all necessary plans in place to protect and defend Turkey if necessary,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Ramussen said in Brussels, noting that the 28-member NATO alliance, of which Turkey is a member, was holding out hope that an alternative path could be found.
Turkey has reinforced its 566-mile border with Syria, but tensions have escalated as Turkey has reached out to Syrian rebel groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad over the course of the 19-month conflict.
Today, several mortars landed in Turkey across from the Syrian border town of Azmarin, and heavy gunfire could be heard from Turkey, according to a separate Reuters report. Whether the shells are intended for Turkey – or are simply due to Syrian troops overshooting their rebel targets – is unclear.
The United Nations and activist groups place the death toll of the Syrian conflict between 20,000 and 30,000 people. An estimated 100,000 refugees fleeing the violence in Syria are now housed in Turkish camps. But Turks living near the Syrian border have experienced the day-to-day terror of Syria’s ongoing conflict as well, as described by Reuters:
Just outside Hacipasa, nestled among olive groves in Turkey's Hatay province, the sound of mortar fire could be heard every 10 to 15 minutes on Tuesday from around the Syrian town of Azmarin. A Syrian helicopter flew over the border.
Villagers used ropes and boats to ferry the wounded across a river into Turkey.
Rebels with AK-47s slung over their shoulders carried an Free Syrian Army officer down to the river bank on the Syrian side, using a carpet and two poles as a makeshift stretcher….