Turkey-Syria tensions spike as mortar fire exchanged

Turkish artillery fired on Syrian targets after deadly shelling from Syria hit a Turkish border town on Wednesday, sharply raising tensions on the volatile border and prompting Canada's foreign affairs minister to call for calm.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird condemns events and calls for calm

Smoke rises over the streets after an mortar bomb landed from Syria in the border village of Akcakale, southeastern Sanliurfa province on Oct. 3, 2012. (Rauf Maltas/Anadolu Agency/Reuters)

Turkish artillery fired on Syrian targets after deadly shelling from Syria hit a Turkish border town on Wednesday, sharply raising tensions on the volatile border and prompting Canada's foreign affairs minister to call for calm.

In a terse statement, the office of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned shelling that hit the Turkish town of Akcakale, killing five local residents and wounding a dozen others. The shelling appeared to come from Syrian government forces who were fighting Syrian rebels backed by Turkey, which has called for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"Our armed forces at the border region responded to this atrocious attack with artillery fire on points in Syria that were detected with radar, in line with the rules of engagement," the Turkish statement said.

"Turkey, acting within the rules of engagement and international laws, will never leave unreciprocated such provocations by the Syrian regime against our national security," it said.

Turkey's NTV television said Turkish radar pinpointed the positions from where the shells were fired on Akcakale, and that those positions were hit.

"Turkey is a sovereign country. There was an attack on its territory. There must certainly be a response in international law.... I hope this is Syria's last craziness. Syria will be called into account," said Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc.

Along the volatile border, a shell fired from inside Syria landed on a home in the Turkish village of Akcakale, killing a woman, her three daughters and another woman, and wounding at least 10 others, according to Turkish media.

Canada's foreign affairs minister calls for 'calm'

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said at a press conference Wednesday night that after killing tens of thousands of people, the "brutal and repressive regime" of Assad is now taking assaults beyond his border.

"Canada strongly condemns in no uncertain terms this attack by the Assad regime across Turkey's border … All countries must bring pressure to bear on Syria for Assad to go," he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird condemns recent violence in Syria as he speaks with the media on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

He added that Canada's sanctions on Syria are among the strongest in the world, and the country will continue working with its allies to isolate the regime and "to end the bloodshed of its own people and now of its neighbours."

He also offered his sympathies to the Turkish people, and called for cooler heads to prevail.

"We obviously recognize that every country has a right to defend itself. I think we do have to appeal for calm, to not let this situation escalate out of control," Baird said.

When asked whether there would be military intervention, Baird responded that in these early hours, "I think that would be incredibly premature."

'Flagrant violations of international law'

NATO, in a statement issued Wednesday, called the "aggressive acts" near the Turkish border "a flagrant breach of international law and a clear and present danger to the security of one of its allies."

It added that NATO and its allies condemned Wednesday's shelling, which it said killed five Turkish citizens and injured many others.

"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," NATO said.

Turkish media said Turkey has prepared a parliamentary bill for Syria that is similar to one that authorizes the Turkish military to intervene in northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish militants who have bases there. The bill is expected to be discussed in parliament on Thursday, Anadolu agency reported.

If approved, the bill could more easily open the way to unilateral action by Turkey's armed forces inside Syria, without the involvement of its Western and Arab allies.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the Syrian government to respect the territorial integrity of its neighbours.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said Wednesday's incidents "again demonstrated how Syria's conflict is threatening not only the security of the Syrian people but increasingly causing harm to its neighbours."

"The secretary-general has repeatedly warned that the ongoing militarization of the conflict in Syria is leading to tragic results for the Syrian people," he said.

U.S. 'outraged'

Meanwhile, the Obama administration issued a statement saying it was "outraged" that a Syrian mortar shell landed on a home in Turkey.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the U.S. is consulting Turkey on what she termed a "very dangerous situation."

She planned to speak with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu later Wednesday.

Turkey, a NATO ally, is anxious to avoid going into Syria on its own. It has been pushing for international intervention in the form of a safe zone, which would likely entail foreign security forces on the ground and a partial no-fly zone.

However, the allies fear military intervention in Syria could ignite a wider conflict, and few observers expect robust action from the United States, which Turkey views as vital to any operation in Syria, ahead of the presidential election in November.

Turkey hosts more than 90,000 Syrian refugees in camps along its border, and also hosts Syrian opposition groups.

With files from CBC News