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Turkey responds to shelling attack with artillery fire into Syria

October 3, 2012 |  1:41 pm

This post has been updated. See note below.

BEIRUT — Turkey said Wednesday that it had retaliated with artillery fire against neighboring Syria after a shelling attack from Syria struck a Turkish border town, killing five people.

The Turkish response was the most serious escalation to date in what had been an angry war of words between Turkey and Syria stemming from Syria’s 18-month civil conflict.

Turkey has called for the resignation of Syrian President Bashar Assad, once a close ally.

The retaliatory attack raised the possibility of a wider armed conflict between the two nations, which share a more than 500-mile border. Both have large military forces.

There was no immediate public response from Syria.

Turkish authorities reportedly asked for an emergency meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies about the incident.

A statement from the office of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish artillery had “immediately” fired “on points in Syria that were detected with radar, in line with the rules of engagement,” the Associated Press reported.

The statement appeared to allude to Turkish tracking of shells from Syria that Wednesday hit the Turkish border town of Akcakale, killing five civilians and injuring at least 8 other Turks, including several policemen. The official Anadolu Turkish news agency said the shells were fired by the Syrian military.

The shelling provoked outrage in Turkey. Residents of the town marched on the offices of the local district governor and demanded action.

Syrian rebels had previously occupied the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad, just across the border from Akcakale. Syrian forces had been shelling the Syrian border town in an apparent attempt to target rebels.

After news of the casualties on the Turkish side, word came late in the evening that the Turks had retaliated with artillery fire against Syria.

Turkey has beefed up its forces after several cross-border incidents stemming from Syria’s ongoing civil strife. In June, Syrian antiaircraft batteries shot down a Turkish fighter jet off the Syrian coast. Two Turkish pilots were killed.

[Updated 4:50 p.m. Oct. 3: Turkey did not disclose where their retaliatory strikes were aimed. But Syrian rebels said Turkish batteries were striking Syrian artillery positions just across the border from Akcakale, where the five civilians were killed.

A Syrian rebel official who goes by the name of Abu Muatasem said Turkey had fired dozens of shells at a Syrian artillery emplacement near the Syrian town of Tal Abyad, which is adjacent to Akcakale. Syrian rebels seized Tal Abyad two weeks ago, but Syrian forces have continued to bombard rebels based  there. The Turkish artillery barrage appeared to put an end to the Syrian military shelling, the rebel official said.

Late Wednesday, Syria’s official  state news service said Syrian authorities were investigating the source of the attack that killed the Turkish citizens.  Syria offered “sincerest condolences” to the Turkish people.]


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--Patrick J. McDonnell. Special correspondent Rima Marrouch and a Times staff writer in Beirut contributed to this report.