ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish artillery fired on Syrian targets after deadly shelling from Syria hit a Turkish border town on Wednesday, sharply raising tensions on a volatile border that has been crossed by tens of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing violence in their country.
In a terse statement, the office of Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, condemned shelling that hit the Turkish town of Akcakale, killing five local residents and wounding a dozen others. The shelling appeared to come from Syrian government forces who were fighting Syrian rebels backed by Turkey, which has called for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“Our armed forces at the border region responded to this atrocious attack with artillery fire on points in Syria that were detected with radar, in line with the rules of engagement,” the Turkish statement said.
“Turkey, acting within the rules of engagement and international laws, will never leave unreciprocated such provocations by the Syrian regime against our national security,” it said.
Turkey’s NTV television said Turkish radar pinpointed the positions from where the shells were fired on Akcakale, and that those positions were hit.
“Turkey is a sovereign country. There was an attack on its territory. There must certainly be a response in international law. … I hope this is Syria’s last craziness. Syria will be called into account,” said Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc.
In Belgium, NATO’s National Atlantic Council, which is composed of the national ambassadors, was holding an emergency meeting in Brussels on Wednesday night at Turkey’s request to discuss the cross-border incident. Turkey was likely to receive an expression of support from the alliance, although any imminent move by the NATO members to intervene militarily seems remote. NATO also held an emergency meeting when a Turkish jet was shot down by Syria in June.
A NATO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of NATO rules, said the meeting in Brussels was being held under a treaty article that states “the parties will consult whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence, or security of any of the parties is threatened.”
Turkey, a NATO ally, is anxious to avoid going into Syria on its own. It has been pushing for international intervention in the form of a safe zone, which would likely entail foreign security forces on the ground and a partial no-fly zone. However, the allies fear military intervention in Syria could ignite a wider conflict, and few observers expect robust action from the United States, which Turkey views as vital to any operation in Syria, ahead of the presidential election in November.
Turkey hosts more than 90,000 Syrian refugees in camps along its border, and also hosts Syrian opposition groups. There is concern in Turkey that the Syrian chaos could have a destabilizing effect on Turkey’s own communities; some observers have attributed a sharp rise in violence by Kurdish rebels in Turkey to militant efforts to take advantage of the regional uncertainty.
Don Melvin in Brussels contributed.
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