Mortar rounds launched from Syria hit a border town in Turkey on Wednesday, killing at least five people and wounding at least a dozen.
The mayor of the town of Akcakale said three children, their mother and a female neighbor were killed in the incident, which is bound to escalate tensions between Syria and Turkey. The mayor also added that two police officers were among those hurt, CNN reported.
The semi-official Anadolu news agency said the mortar rounds were fired from the Syrian district of Tel Abayad, although it remained unclear which military or group was behind the attack.
Turkey fired back at Syria, according to Reuters. A statement from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office said, “Our armed forces in the border region responded immediately to this abominable attack in line with their rules of engagement; targets were struck through artillery fire against places in Syria identified by radar.”
“Turkey will never leave unanswered such kinds of provocation by the Syrian regime against our national security,” said the statement, according to Reuters.
The Obama administration said it was “outraged” by the mortar shell attack, according to the Associated Press. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US is consulting with Turkey on the “very dangerous situation.”
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said Syria must be made to account for the incident, according to the BBC.
“We will not be blinded by rage, but we will protect our rights to the end in the face of an attack on our soil killing our people,” he said, according to Agence France Presse.
The country’s foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu also contacted UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the UN and Arab League’s Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on Wednesday in connection with the incident.
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Rasmussen reportedly told Davutoglu that he strongly condemned the incident and was following the developments “closely and with great concern,” according to a NATO spokeswoman.
NATO’s 28 members convened an emergency meeting in Brussels, according to Al Jazeera. “The meeting of NATO ambassadors falls under Article 4 of the NATO charter which provides for consultations when a member state feels its territorial integrity, political independence or security is under threat.”
A statement put out by the allies after the meeting said the incident was “cause of greatest concern” and “strongly condemned. “
“In the spirit of indivisibility of security and solidarity deriving from the Washington Treaty, the Alliance continues to stand by Turkey and demands the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an Ally, and urges the Syrian regime to put an end to flagrant violations of international law,” said the statement, according to Al Jazeera.
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According to Agence France Presse, UN chief Ban encouraged Davutoglu to “keep open all channels of communication with the Syrian authorities with a view to lessening any tension that could build up as a result of the incident.”
Ban also appealed for restraint, warning that the conflict could spread to other parts of the region. “Syria’s conflict is threatening not only the security of the Syrian people but increasingly causing harm to its neighbors,” he said, according to The Washington Post.
The White House condemned the shelling and reaffirmed America’s solidarity with Turkey. “We stand with our Turkish ally and are continuing to consult closely on the path forward,” said spokesman Tommy Vietor, according to The Post.
Syria expressed condolences to Turkey and issued a statement saying that it respected the sovereignty of its neighbors, Reuters reported. It said it was investigating the source of the shell and also called upon its neighbors to respect its sovereignty and stop “terrorists” from crossing the border into Syria.
The victims were the first Turkish nationals to be killed by cross-border fire in the Syrian conflict, which has already caused hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee to neighboring countries in the last 18 months, including Turkey.
“We lost five citizens,” the mayor, Abdulhakim Ayhan, told Anatolia, according to AFP. “I offer my condolences to their families, and of course to all of Turkey.”