Tension escalates anew along border with Syria

Tension escalates anew along border with Syria

Tension escalates anew along border with Syria

Wounded Syrians are taken to the hospital in Turkey after heavy clashes between military soldiers and rebels in the turmoil-ridden neighboring Syria. DHA photo

Three civilians in Ceylanpınar in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa were wounded by gunfire from Syria yesterday as opposition militants and government soldiers fought pitched battles for control of a border crossing on the Turkish frontier.

Turkish citizens Ömer Vel and Halime İnce were struck by stray bullets fired from the Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn just across from Ceylanpınar, where Syrian rebels are fighting government forces. Another Turkish citizen was wounded later in the afternoon.

Turkish security forces increased their presence along the border with armored vehicles as shell fragments also hit a hospital in the town, causing panic among residents.

School was canceled in the district yesterday following an anxious night for residents that was punctuated by battle sounds from Syria and which led to a warning from local authorities to avoid the border area. About 200 Syrians have fled Ras al-Ayn into Turkey amid the violence.

As tension escalated along the border, President Abdullah Gül said the country reserved the right to defend itself against any threat from neighboring Syria amid discussions about the possible deployment of Patriot missiles.

 “Patriots ... are being discussed within NATO. It is only natural for us to take any measure for defense reasons,” Gül told reporters in the Central Anatolian province of Çankırı, but insisted that it was “out of the question for Turkey to start a war with Syria.” Gül also said he hoped Syria would not act “illogically.”

Five Turkish civilians were killed last month when a mortar fired from Syria struck their house in Akçakale, a border town west of Ceylanpınar. Turkey’s chief of staff said at the time that Turkish troops would respond “with greater force” if shells continue to land on Turkish soil, while Parliament has also authorized the deployment of troops beyond Turkey.

Turkey said Nov. 7 that it was in talks with NATO over the possible deployment of Patriot missiles on its soil as part of contingency planning on the security of Turkey and NATO territories. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told reporters in Brussels that it was only “normal” to discuss any defense measures in the face of a potential risk from Syria though Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey had no plans to deploy the missiles.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Nov. 7 that the issue of Patriot missiles had been discussed within NATO for “some time” and that a request from Turkey to deploy them would not be “surprising.”

“As you know, in the past we have reinforced Turkey with Patriots. So we will await a formal request and then NATO will deliberate. But we’re obviously looking at the full range of things to ensure that Turkey remains safe and secure,” she said.

Turkey has already beefed up border security with tanks and anti-aircraft batteries in the face of the 20-month conflict in Syria.