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Wed October 3, 2012
Syria's Battered City Of Aleppo Rocked By Suicide Bombings
Originally published on Wed October 3, 2012 7:16 pm
Update at 3:15 p.m. Turkey Fires Back After Rocket From Syria
Turkey's military has fired on targets in northern Syria in response to a rocket that hit a Turkish village and killed several people Wednesday, the BBC and other news organizations are reporting.
The cross-border shooting could potentially mark a major escalation along the tense frontier.
In a statement, the Turkish government said that the border town of Akcakale came under fire on Wednesday afternoon, resulting in deaths and injuries.
Turkey has become a fierce critic of President Bashar Assad's government and tensions ran particularly high after Syria shot down a Turkish war plane in June.
Since that episode, Syrian government forces have tended to stay away from the border area, and this has allowed the rebels to operate more freely from inside northern Syria.
Update at 4:25 p.m. Turkey Consults U.N., NATO
The Turkish military said that "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."
Five Turks were killed and nine were wounded, according to the military. It didn't give additional details on the victims, but the AP and other news organizations said a rocket killed several family members in one home.
Also, Turkey officials began consultations with the United Nations and NATO in the wake of the shooting.
Update at 5:35 p.m. Syrian Rebels Recently Took Border Crossing
NPR's Kelly McEvers, who was recently in Akcakale, tells All Things Considered that Syrian rebels recently captured the border crossing at this spot, making it the latest addition to their strongholds along the frontier.
But the Syrian army does not appear to have completely conceded the area.
It was not clear whether the Syrians fired into the Turkish town intentionally or by accident. But Kelly noted this has happened before.
"This isn't the first time the Syrians have shot into Akcakale," Kelly says. "The people of this town are terrified. They've moved away from the border. Local authorities have told them they can't go anywhere near it. Schools have been closed."
Here's Our Original Post:
Aleppo, which has endured more carnage than any Syrian city in recent months, was hammered again on Wednesday with three suicide car bombings that killed dozens of people and leveled at least one large building.
The fight for the city has left Aleppo split in half, with the government controlling the west and the rebels holding the east.
Wednesday's bombings took place just moments apart and took place in and around the main Saadallah al-Jabiri Square, an area controlled by the government, The Associated Press reported.
The type of attack and the location suggested the rebels were responsible, and Syria's state-run SANA news agency blamed "terrorists," the AP added.
As rescuers searched, the death toll continued to climb. Reuters reported at least 40 dead and 90 wounded.
Aleppo is Syria's largest city and its commercial center. Until a couple months ago, little fighting took place in and around the city. But it became a major battleground this summer.
Over the weekend, hundreds of shops in the city's ancient, covered market were destroyed by a fire touched off by the fighting. Despite the heavy battles, there has not been a conclusive outcome. The same appears true in the larger battle for Syria.
As NPR's Kelly McEvers noted during a recent reporting trip to northern Syria, President Bashar Assad previously "downplayed efforts to oust him as conspiracies by terrorists sponsored by the U.S. and Israel." Now, Kelly says, Assad seems to be acknowledging that "that not only is he fighting for his survival, but that it might not come too easily."
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
Turkey says its army has fired artillery at targets inside neighboring Syria. A statement from Turkey's prime minister says the move comes in response to a Syrian attack on a Turkish border town earlier today. That attack killed five people, including women and children. Turkey has alerted the United Nations Security Council and is asking NATO for an emergency meeting. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned Syria's attack.
SECRETARY HILLARY CLINTON: We are outraged that the Syrians have been shooting across the border. We are very regretful about the loss of life that has occurred on the Turkish side.
CORNISH: NATO has called on Syria to put an end to what it calls flagrant violations of international law.
NPR's Kelly McEvers is in Beirut. She just returned from the Turkish-Syrian border and the area where all this happened today. I asked her if this is the first time Syria has fired into Turkey.
KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: No, it's not. You know, since the Syrian uprising began, there've been several cross-border skirmishes between the Syrians and the Turks. There was an incident in April where Syrian army fired into Turkey, actually killing a few Syrians in a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey. There was, of course, in June, over Syrian territory, a Turkish jet that the Turks say had just left Syrian territory was shot down by the Syrians, killing the two pilots inside. And now, we have this incident.
The place in question is a town, a small town on the Turkish-Syrian border, Turkish town called Akcakale. The importance of this town is that Syrian rebels trying to bring down the Syrian regime have recently secured or - what they say - liberated the border crossing between Turkey and Syria, right there, right there at Akcakale. So it appears that the Syrian army is firing into Turkish territory, into Akcakale as a way to retaliate against these rebels, to target these rebels.
CORNISH: Turkey and Syria were once close allies. How is that relationship changed recently?
MCEVERS: Very close relationship in the past. You know, the two had great trade relations there across that border. It's even was said that, you know, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would take vacations together, that they were so close. That relationship really deteriorated when the Syrian uprisings started a year and a half ago. And you saw Syrian forces targeting people, protesters in the streets, and Turkey calling for Bashar al-Assad to step down. Turkey later closed its embassy in Syria. And now, Turkey regularly calls for him to step down along with other countries, including the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, predominately Sunni countries here in the region.
And now, these incidents have really ratcheted up, I think, the tensions between the two countries. And this is definitely the most tense we've seen it so far.
CORNISH: Kelly, as we mentioned, you just returned from the Turkish-Syrian border. Can you describe the scene at this town?
MCEVERS: We were in Akcakale at this border crossing. We actually cross from Turkey into Syria at this crossing that rebels, you know, say that they've recently liberated. And, you know, this isn't even the first time that the Syrians have shot into Akcakale. The day after we left, there was another incident where a mortar fell. No one was killed, but I can tell you that the people of this town are terrified. I mean, they've moved away from the border. Local authorities have told them they can't go anywhere near it. Schools have been closed. And now, you know, this incident. There are reports that locals went into the local mayor's office protesting, demanding that something be done.
CORNISH: Kelly McEvers speaking to us from Beirut. Thank you, Kelly.
MCEVERS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.