Turkey returned fire after a mortar bomb shot from Syria landed in a field in southern Turkey yesterday, the day after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Damascus that Turkey would not shy away from war if provoked.
It was the fourth day of Turkish strikes in retaliation for mortar bombs and shelling by Syrian forces that killed five Turkish civilians further east on Wednesday.
The strikes and counter-strikes are the most serious cross-border violence in Syria’s conflict, which began as a democracy uprising, but has evolved into a civil war with sectarian overtones. They highlight how the crisis could destabilize the region.
NATO member Turkey, once an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but now a leading voice in calls for him to quit, has nearly 100,000 Syrian refugees in camps on its territory and has allowed rebel leaders sanctuary.
Erdogan said on Friday his country did not want war, but warned Syria not to make a “fatal mistake” by testing its resolve. Damascus has said its fire hit Turkey accidentally.
The Hatay governor’s office said the round fired from Syria yesterday landed on empty land near Guvecci village in Yayladagi district, 50m inside Turkey, at 7am.
“It is assessed that the shell was fired by Syrian Arab Republic security forces at opposition forces along the border,” a statement on its Web site said.
“There was no loss of life in the incident,” it said. “The Guvecci border post retaliated in kind with four rounds from 81mm mortars.”
The Dogan news agency said another mortar round from Syria landed about 50m from an observation tower near Guvecci at about 11am and smoke rose from the area. There were no immediate reports of casualties or retaliation, but a response was expected.
Separately, the governor’s office warned people in the area not to go out on balconies or spend time in open places, Dogan said. It said the Red Crescent was offering psychological support to people in the area.
There were two similar incidents in Hatay on Friday.
“Those who attempt to test Turkey’s deterrence, its decisiveness, its capacity, I say here they are making a fatal mistake,” Erdogan said in a bellicose speech to a crowd in Istanbul on Friday afternoon.
“We are not interested in war, but we’re not far from war either. This nation has come to where it is today having gone through intercontinental wars,” he said.