Turkey deployed additional tanks and missile defense systems to the Syrian border as artillery units responded to fire from President Bashar al-Assad’s armed forces for a sixth day.
Turkish batteries fired into Syrian territory, Al Arabiya television said today, without saying where it got the information. That followed a Syrian shell landing in a field while cotton harvesters worked near Hatay, Turkey’s state-run Anatolia news agency reported, as the Cabinet met to discuss the issue.
A convoy of military vehicles towing howitzers headed toward the border town of Reyhanli in Hatay province today and the army sent reinforcements, including tanks and missile defense systems, to an area near the border town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province on Oct. 6, Anatolia said in separate reports.
Tensions between the two countries have risen during the 19-month rebellion against Assad’s government, with Turkey voicing support for the rebels. These worsened in June, when Syria shot down a Turkish warplane it said was in its airspace and on Oct. 3, when a Syrian shell fired over the border killed five Turks and triggered the cross-border exchanges. Last week, parliament gave the government a one-year mandate to send forces into Syria if necessary.
“You have to be ready as if you were going to war anytime,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday, according to Anatolia. “If needed, if such a thing happens, if you are persecuted, then you will do whatever is necessary.”
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told state-run television on Oct. 6 that the deaths in the town of Akcakale were caused by a D30 type, 122mm artillery shell used only by the Syrian army.
The subsequent Turkish threat to enter Syria was a “necessary warning to the Syrian administration to prevent a war,” Davutoglu said during an interview with TRT television.
Davutoglu said during the interview that Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa had not taken part in massacres and could serve as interim leader if Assad leaves office. Davutoglu, meanwhile, confirmed that Sharaa had tried to escape from Syria. He refused to elaborate, citing risks to Sharaa’s life.
“Eventually, there will be a change, a transition,” President Abdullah Gul said today. “Our wish is that it happens before more bloodshed and Syria further ruined itself.”
Tim Ash, head of emerging market research at Standard Bank Group Ltd. in London, downplayed “prospects of an all out Syrian-Turkish military conflict,” in e-mailed comments today.
“Ankara is responding to cross-border shelling more as a deterrent,” Ash said. He said the motion passed by parliament gives Turkey the option to defend itself and “is no way a precursor to Turkish full-scale intervention” without sanctions and support from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United Nations.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a meeting in Strasbourg today that the situation along the Turkish-Syrian border was “extremely dangerous,” the Associated Press reported.
Turkish artillery units stationed along the border fired several salvos yesterday in response to a Syrian shell that damaged a grain depot in the town of Akcakale and a mortar round that landed in an empty field near the village of Hacipasa in Hatay province, authorities said.
A refugee camp is located between Hacipasa and the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkey shelters nearly 100,000 refugees in 15 camps along the frontier while humanitarian groups also distribute food and other humanitarian supplies at five separate points along the border, including Akcakale as of yesterday, the government’s disaster management agency said in a statement on its website.
Turkey may strike Syrian artillery batteries with F-16 warplanes if Syrian shells cause new casualties, Milliyet newspaper said today, without citing anyone.
Most schools in Akcakale have been closed due to fears of shelling. Some residents have begun to leave the town.