New shelling exchange along Syrian-Turkish border
BEIRUT - -Turkey fired retaliatory shells into neighboring Syria on Saturday for a fourth consecutive day after a Syrian mortar projectile again struck Turkish territory, news agencies reported.
The latest exchange comes a day after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave a fiery address warning that it would be a “fatal mistake” to test Turkey’s resolve in the matter.
“We are not interested in war, but we are not far from it either,” Erdogan said.
World leaders fear a broader regional war arising from the conflict raging inside Syria, where rebels are fighting to oust President Bashar Assad. Turkey has called on Assad to step down and has provided a haven for Syrian rebels and political dissidents.
On Saturday, the Turkish press reported, a mortar shell from Syria landed in a field near the Turkish border village of Guvecci, in Hatay province. No one was hurt, but the incident prompted Turkish batteries to fire volleys into Syria. There was no immediate word on casualties on the Syrian side.
Tensions have been escalating between the two nations since an incident on Wednesday in which shells from Syria killed five people in the Turkish border town of Akcakale, Turkish authorities said. The killings sparked outrage in Turkey and prompted the first in a series of Turkish retaliatory artillery strikes inside Syrian territory.
The reported Syrian shelling of Turkish territory drew condemnation from the United Nations and NATO, of which Turkey is a member.
Syrian officials have assured Russia, Damascus’ ally, that the deadly strike in Akcakale was a “tragic mistake” and would not be repeated, the Russian press reported. Syria has offered “condolences” to the “Turkish people” but has not apologized for the cross-border strikes or admitted responsibility.
Turkey and Syria share a more-than-500-mile border, parts of which have become caught up in the Syrian conflict. Rebels have seized several Syrian government border posts, while arms and fighters move back and forth across the frontier. There have been reports that Syria has agreed to keep its forces some six miles from the border, but Syrian authorities have not confirmed any such agreement.
-- Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: Turks hold a banner that says "No to war" at a protest in Ankara. Credit: Adem Altanadem / AFP/Getty Images