Friday 20 April 2018

Turkey returns fire on Syria in response to shelling

Smoke rises at the Akcakale border gate after a shell fired from Syria landed on the Turkish-Syrian border in Sanliurfa province
Smoke rises at the Akcakale border gate after a shell fired from Syria landed on the Turkish-Syrian border in Sanliurfa province
Turkish soldiers take their position at the Akcakale border gate
Turkish troops take their position at the Akcakale border gate

Richard Spencer Damascus

TURKISH artillery fired into Syrian territory yesterday responding swiftly after the border town of Akcakale was once again struck by a mortar round.

No one was hurt when the shell, presumed to be from an Assad regime attack on a rebel-held border crossing near Tal Abyad, hit a grain silo on the Turkish side of the border near where five civilians were killed last week.

In response, Turkey promised to retaliate every time Syria struck Turkish territory, and kept to its word within minutes yesterday afternoon.

The incidents appeared to put the lie to claims that the Assad regime had promised to keep both land and air forces from striking within six miles of the frontier. That would have allowed the creation of a buffer zone inside Syria, something which Turkey has long sought as an answer to the crisis caused by hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the fighting. It could also, however, serve as a base for rebel operations.

The rebels are, in any case, managing to take control of large swathes of territory along the border. The Turkish state news agency, as well as activists, said yesterday that the Syrian army had been driven from the town of Khirbat al-Jouz, which has been fought over for several months.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 40 regime troops had died and others who had been wounded were abandoned as the army fled.

The rebels have wide support in rural areas in the north-west, many of which have long been strongholds for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Foothold

The situation in the major cities is different, and the rebels are under great pressure in the half of Aleppo they seized in July.

They are also unable to get a foothold in any significant area of Damascus, with government forces driving them out as soon as they become established, as with the suburbs of Qudsaya and Hameh yesterday.

General Fahd Jassem al-Freij, the Syrian defence minister, claimed that the tide had turned in the government's favour. "The most dangerous parts of the conspiracy have passed," he said.

However, a car bomb exploded near police headquarters in Damascus last night, which the authorities blamed on "terrorists". The number of casualties was not clear. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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