Turkey hits back after new mortar fire from Syria
Turkey hit back on Saturday against what it said was a fresh round of mortar fire from Syria, little more than 24 hours after UN condemnation of deadly cross-border bombardment.
Syria, for its part, said four Turks were among a convoy of “terrorists” killed in fighting in the heart of Aleppo, just hours after UN condemnation of deadly jihadist bombings in the commercial capital.
Turkish officials said they were sure the mortar round that struck on Saturday morning was fired by pro-government forces, and not the rebels who have been fighting for nearly 19 months to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
The round struck Hatay province at the western end of Turkey’s frontier with Syria, prompting fresh retaliatory fire after reprisals on Wednesday and Thursday for the previous shelling, the provincial governor’s office said.
“A mortar round struck today (Saturday) at 7:00 am (0400 GMT) about 50 metres (yards) inside Turkish territory in an open space about 700 metres from the village of Guvecci and about 300 metres from a police station.”
No casualties were reported, it added.
The Turkish army responded with four rounds of mortars, the statement said, adding that the Syrian fire had come from loyalists who were firing at rebels near the border.
A monitoring group, meanwhile, said rebels seized a Syrian village across the border from Guvecci after hours of fierce fighting on Saturday in which 25 troops and three insurgents were killed.
Rebels took control of Khirbat al-Joz, near the town of Jisr al-Shughur, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The cross-border exchanges came despite unanimous condemnation from the UN Security Council late Thursday of deadly shelling from the Syrian side further east in Sanliurfa province that killed five people.
The bombardment on Wednesday evening of the border town of Akcakale, which Turkish officials said Syria later apologised for, prompted counter-shelling that the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations said wounded two soldiers.
The Turkish parliament authorised further military action but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was not looking for a mandate for war, although he warned there would be “a big price” to pay for any further attacks on its citizens or territory.
The Syrian Observatory reported fresh retaliatory shelling by the Turkish army from Sanliurfa province against Syrian positions late on Friday.
“Two Turkish army shells struck south of Tal al-Abyad on Friday evening,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, referring to the border area across from the town of Akcakale where the five Turks were killed.
In its statement Thursday, the UN Security Council “demanded that such violations of international law stop immediately and are not repeated.”
In a new statement on Friday, the Security Council condemned bombings Wednesday claimed by a jihadist group that killed nearly 50 people in Aleppo, expressing condolences to families of the victims “of these heinous acts.”
Longstanding Damascus ally Moscow had drafted the statement, accusing its Western sparring partners on the Security Council of double standards in their approach to the Syrian conflict.
Russia accuses the West of aiding the rebels and of turning a blind eye to their mounting excesses, which a UN human rights probe has said amount to war crimes although lesser ones than those of the government.
Syrian state television said on Saturday that four Turks were among a group of foreign fighters that the army had killed in the battleground city of Aleppo.
“Our valiant forces destroyed two vehicles fitted with Dushka (anti-aircraft heavy) machine guns and seven Mercedes with the terrorists inside, including four Turks, in Bustan al-Qasr district” in central Aleppo, it said.
Syria has repeatedly complained that it is fighting armed terrorists supported from abroad and has pointed the finger not only at neighbouring Turkey but also at oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as the West.
Iran’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, appealed for the release of 48 of its citizens held hostage by rebels in Syria and threatened with execution one by one unless Syria’s army withdraws from an area in Damascus province.
In Damascus on Saturday, Assad laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
State television carried pictures of the president at the monument on Mount Kassioun on the outskirts of the capital.
He was seen shaking hands with senior military and civilian officials as well as embracing children dressed up for the ceremony.
Nationwide, at least 59 people were killed on Saturday — including 38 soldiers, 15 rebels and six civilians — according to an initial count from the Observatory, which gave a death toll of 133 for Friday.
Since the uprising against Assad’s rule erupted in March last year, more than 31,000 people have been killed, according to the group.