Sun, Oct 21, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Turkey strikes, kills Syrian soldiers

SPILLING OVER:Turkish F-16 warplanes are on high alert at the Incirlik air base close to the Syrian border, ready to respond to shelling from Syria, reports say

Reuters and AFP, ANKARA and Beirut

Turkey’s military has fired on Syria 87 times, killing 12 Syrian soldiers and destroying several tanks in retaliation for Syrian shells and mortars landing on Turkish territory, a Turkish newspaper reported yesterday.

Turkey has been carrying out a series of retaliatory strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces fighting rebels along the border, since Syrian shelling killed five Turkish civilians in a Turkish frontier town at the start of this month.

Tension between the two neighbors, once close allies, is at its highest since Ankara turned against al-Assad last year over his violent crackdown on anti-government protests.

The report in the daily Milliyet newspaper, written by columnist Fikret Bila, who is known to have good contacts with the military, cited unnamed military sources. Turkey’s military, which rarely talks in public, could not be reached for comment.

The report said the retaliatory fire had been in response to 27 mortars or shells fired from Syria. Turkey had responded to every incident, it said.

Twelve Syrian soldiers had been killed as a result of Turkish fire, the report said. Five Syrian tanks, three armored vehicles, one mortar weapon, one ammunition vehicle and two anti-aircraft guns had also been destroyed and many other military vehicles had been damaged.

Eighteen mortar shells fired from Syria had landed in the Akcakale district of Sanliurfa Province, where five Turkish civilians were killed this month, while nine had landed in Hatay Province further to the west, according to the report.

The report also stated that Turkish F-16 warplanes were on high alert at the Incirlik air base in Adana, about 100km from the Syrian border. The fighters had been scrambled as recently as Friday in response to Syrian helicopters flying close to the shared border, it said.

Turkish Chief-of-Staff General Necdet Ozel said this month that his troops would respond “with greater force” if shells continued to land on Turkish soil, and parliament has also authorized the deployment of troops beyond Turkey, heightening fears that Syria’s civil war could drag in regional powers.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called on Friday for all sides involved in the Syrian conflict to observe a ceasefire during the Islamic Eid al-Adha festival next week.

Meanwhile, Syrian warplanes resumed bombarding the key northwestern town of Maaret al-Numan yesterday, as clashes erupted on a nearby highway and an explosion rocked a town in Damascus Province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The latest violence comes a day after 133 people were killed nationwide, including 55 civilians, 45 soldiers and 33 rebels, according to the Observatory.

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