Turkey unleashes morning artillery barrage on northern Syria

Parliament to discuss cross-border military intervention in wake of civilian deaths

Ilan Ben Zion is an AFP reporter and a former news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative photo of Turkish army howitzers. (photo credit: AP)
Illustrative photo of Turkish army howitzers. (photo credit: AP)

Turkish artillery on Thursday morning resumed bombarding targets in northern Syria in response to a deadly cross-border mortar shelling that killed five on Wednesday.

Turkish state-run TRT television reported that a military unit based on the border town of Akcakale resumed strikes at Syrian targets overnight and that shelling continued Thursday morning.

The Syrian town of Tel Abyad lies just over the Syria-Turkey border from the Turkish town of Akcakale, the site of Wednesday’s deadly shelling. The mortar-fire reportedly originated from Tel Abyad, according to Reuters.

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The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a Syrian army post in Tel Abyad was bombarded and an unspecified number of soldiers were killed. The British-based opposition group did not specify whether the Turkish military bombardment was responsible for the casualties.

Turkish Foreign Ministry officials were not immediately able to confirm the reports, while Defense Ministry officials refused to comment.

Turkish media reported that Ankara has prepared a parliamentary bill legitimizing Turkish military action in Syria, similar to one which authorizes the Turkish military to intervene in northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish militants based there. The Turkish parliament on Thursday was set to vote on the bill in an emergency session.

The bill drafted by the Turkish government called for “a one-year-long permission to make the necessary arrangements for sending the Turkish Armed Forces” into Syria in light of the “negative impact of the ongoing crisis in Syria on our national security, as well as on regional stability and security.”

İbrahim Kalın, a senior aide to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, tweeted on Thursday morning in advance of the parliamentary vote that Turkey has no interest in war with Syria, but that it will defend its borders and retaliate if necessary. According to Turkish Hurriyet Daily News, Erdoğan signed the government motion calling for military intervention in Syria.

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“Statements and declarations did not seem to do the work anymore, so Turkey feels compelled to act military, even if in a limited manner,” Turkish affairs expert Dr. Nimrod Goren told the Times of Israel. While the bill does not constitute a declaration of war, it would “enable the government freedom in deciding if, when and how to react to possible further escalation.”

“It also aims to serve as a sign of deterrence to Syria, and to show to the Turkish public that the government is reacting harshly to the situation,” Goren said.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Thursday condemned the cross-border incident and called for restraint from both sides.

“I strongly condemn yesterday’s shelling by Syrian forces of the Turkish border town,” she said in a statement. “I once again urge the Syrian authorities to put an immediate end to the violence and fully respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all neighboring countries.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also urged the Syrian government to declare the incident an accident. Moscow called for bilateral restraint.

Wednesday’s incident was the first in which Turkish citizens were killed as a consequence of the violence raging in Syria. The deaths of two women and three children in Akcakale followed a series of bombardments of Turkish border towns in recent months. Two Turkish civilians were wounded by a mortar that fell in Akcakale last month.

In June, a Turkish Air Force reconnaissance jet crashed into the Mediterranean Sea after being fired upon by Syrian army forces, killing the pilot and navigator. Relations between the former allies have been strained ever since.

Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi on Wednesday offered his government’s “sincerest condolences” to the families of the slain Turks, and said his government was investigating the source of the shelling that killed them, Syria’s SANA news agency reported.

Al-Zoabi reiterated Damascus’s contention that “undisciplined terrorist groups… who have varying agendas and identities” are operating on the Syria-Turkey frontier, and that such terrorists committed Wednesday’s bombings in Aleppo.

He called on Turkey to respect Syrian sovereignty and prevent “terrorists” from crossing the border, “which is what Syria always does.”

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