CEYLANPINAR (Turkey) — Syrian troops used aircraft and artillery on Wednesday in an attempt to dislodge rebels from a town next to the border with Turkey, as Ankara warned it would retaliate against any airspace violations.
An Associated Press journalist in the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar witnessed Syrian airstrikes in the adjacent Syrian town of Ras Al Ayn, where rebels say they have ousted troops loyal to President Bashar Al Assad.
Deadly air strikes began several days ago, and many casualties were rushed into Turkey for treatment. Local officials said as many as 30 people have died since Monday. The journalist also saw Syrian forces shelling a wooded area near Ras Al Ayn from where rebels had been firing.
A total 11,000 escaped into Turkey last week following the surge of fighting at Ras Al Ayn, which is located in the northeastern Syrian province of Al Hasaka, an oil-producing region where the population is mostly Kurdish.
The proximity of the fighting to Turkey has raised fears of an escalation. Turkish media, including the Anadolu news agency, said several villages west of Ceylanpinar have been evacuated to protect residents from any spillover of the fighting in Syria. About 1,000 people left Mursitpinar, 180 kilometres from Ceylanpinar, after an appeal from the loudspeakers of local mosques.
Turkey’s defence minister, Ismet Yilmaz, indicated that Turkey would use military force in response to any incursions by Syrian aircraft. Last month, Turkish artillery fired on targets in Syria after Syrian shells landed inside Turkey and killed several Turkish civilians in one instance.
“The necessary response will be given to Syrian planes and helicopters that violate our border,” Yilmaz said.
A Turkish official in Ceylanpinar said the sound of shelling was heard through the night. Two rocket-propelled grenades hit houses on the Turkish side, but there were no injuries, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is barred from speaking to the media on the record. Later, the official said four wounded Syrians had been brought across the border for treatment. Rumours swirled about the situation in the Syrian town; the Turkish official cited contacts in Ras Al Ayn as saying Syrian forces had entered the town. A convoy of seven white jeeps and a truck was seen near the Syrian town, but it was unclear who was in the vehicles. On the Turkish side of the border, Turkish jets were heard flying overhead.
At one point, sounds of jubilation were heard coming from Ras Al Ayn. One rebel shouted in Arabic: “The Syrian army fled, did you see?” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday that warplanes carried out six airstrikes in Al Hasaka, including those at Ras Al Ayn.
Regime jet fighters also targeted the rebellious suburbs of Damascus on Wednesday, the Britain-based Observatory said. Heavy clashes between rebel units and Assad’s troops were ongoing in the northern city of Aleppo, the Observatory said.