AKCAKALE, Turkey |
(Reuters) - A mortar bomb fired from Syria landed in a residential district of the southeastern Turkish town of Akcakale on Wednesday, killing a woman and four children from the same family and wounding at least eight other people.
A cloud of dust and smoke rose up over low-rise buildings as residents ran to help the wounded. Others, infuriated by the increasing spillover of violence from Syria's civil war, took to the streets shouting protests against the local authorities.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu phoned U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to brief him about the incident and also spoke with senior military officials and Syria crisis mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, his ministry said in a statement.
Davutoglu signaled over the weekend that Turkey would take action if there was a repeat of a mortar strike which damaged homes and workplaces in Akcakale last Friday.
"It (latest mortar round) hit right in the middle of the neighborhood. The wife and four children from the same family died," Ahmet Emin Meshurgul, local head of the Turkish Red Crescent, told Reuters, adding he knew the victims personally.
"People here are anxious, because we got hit before. Security forces tried to convince people to empty the neighborhood near the border, but now we've been hit right in the middle of the town," he said.
A Reuters witness saw three police officers among the wounded being taken to hospital.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan long cultivated good relations with Assad but became a harsh critic after Syria's popular revolt began last year, accusing him of creating a "terrorist state". Erdogan has allowed Syrian rebels to organize on Turkish soil and pushed for a foreign-protected safe zone inside Syria.
GUNFIRE STRAYING OVER BORDER
Syria's worsening bloodshed has increasingly affected border zones, with stray bullets flying into Turkish territory.
"Over the last 20 to 25 days there have been very heavy clashes on the Syrian side. We have felt the effects of these in Akcakale," Labor Minister Faruk Celik, an MP for the province where Akcakale is located, told parliament.
In April, Turkey reported an incident to the United Nations in which at least five people, including two Turkish officials, were wounded when cross-border gunfire struck a Syrian refugee camp in Kilis, further west along the frontier.
Turkey beefed up its troop presence and air defenses along its 900-km (560-mile) border after Syria shot down a Turkish reconnaissance jet in June. But residents in Akcakale said there was still not enough security.
"People here are rising up, there is no security. People were chanting for the local governors to resign," local resident Ibrahim Halil Arslan told CNN Turk television.
"Everybody here is so anxious. We keep our children locked at home, and we are trying to live under this psychological pressure," he said.
Washington sees Turkey as the pivotal player in backing Syria's opposition and planning for the post-Assad era. But Ankara has found itself increasingly isolated and frustrated by a lack of international consensus on how to end the conflict.
Turkey is also sheltering more than 90,000 refugees from Syria and fears a mass influx similar to the flight of half a million Iraqi Kurds into Turkey after the 1991 Gulf War.
(Reporting by Seda Sezer and Ece Toksabay in Istanbul, Jonathon Burch and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Mark Heinrich)