The unspecified targets were hit after a shell apparently launched by the Syrian military during battles with rebels crashed into a Turkish border town, killing five members of a Turkish family. The deaths prompted Turkey to act for the first time on repeated threats to retaliate for encroachments on its territory.
The strikes came on a day of bloodshed in Syria in which human rights groups said 190 people were killed. At least 34 of those were the result of a suicide attack in the heart of Aleppo that devastated a major city square in an area controlled by government forces.
Though this was not the first time the Syrian conflict has spilled into Turkey since Syrians rose up against President Bashar al-Assad last year, these were the first Turkish civilians to die. Within hours, the Turkish military struck back, according to a brief statement issued by the office of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“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,” the statement said.
NATO, of which Turkey is a member, met in emergency session at Turkey’s request and issued a strongly worded statement calling the Syrian shelling “a flagrant breach of international law and a clear and present danger to the security of one of its Allies.”
Although NATO pledged to continue to “stand by Turkey,” it proposed no immediate action.
In Washington, the White House also condemned the Syrian shelling and affirmed the United States’ solidarity with Turkey. “We stand with our Turkish ally and are continuing to consult closely on the path forward,” spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
Pentagon spokesman George Little condemned what he called “the depraved behavior of the Syrian regime.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reiterated the United States’ support for Turkey in a telephone call with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotoglu and pledged that the United States would stand by Turkey in any future discussions of the crisis at the United Nations, according to State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland.
Turkey sent a letter to the United Nations calling on the Security Council “to take necessary action to put an end to such acts of aggression.”
Turks, however, have expressed little appetite for a war with Syria, and Syria’s government has no interest in provoking international military intervention in a conflict that it still believes it can win.
“This is a gesture, not a war,” said Henri Barkey, professor of international relations at Lehigh University, referring to the Turkish retaliation.