NATO is ready to help member state Turkey as the 20-month conflict in Syria is increasingly spilling across the border, the alliance’s chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said.
“Turkey can rely on NATO solidarity, we have more plans in place to defend and protect Turkey, our ally, if needed,” Rasmussen told reporters in Prague on Monday.
The NATO secretary-general also said the transatlantic military alliance still has not received a request from Turkey for a possible deployment of US-made Patriot anti-aircraft missiles.
“But obviously if such a request is to be forwarded, the NATO council will have to consider it,” he added.
Ankara said last week that it was in talks with NATO about the Patriots but had not made any formal request.
President Abdullah Gul said last week that Turkey reserved the right to defend itself against any threat from Syria, its one-time ally, but that it was “out of the question” that Ankara would start a war.
Deadly fighting flared on Syria’s borders with Turkey and Jordan on Monday while Israel fired across the ceasefire line on the Golan Heights for a second day stoking fears of a spillover of the 20-month conflict.
Syrian forces and rebels have been involved in furious and often deadly fighting in the past week around a Syrian border town, sending thousands more Syrians fleeing into Turkey which has boosted its defences along the volatile frontier.
Turkish forces have systematically retaliated to every cross-border shelling since Syrian fire killed five Turkish civilians on October 3.
Meanwhile, Israeli troops fired tank shells into Syria on Monday in retaliation for a mortar round that struck near an army post in the Golan Heights, scoring “direct hits” on the mobile artillery source of the fire, the army said.
“A short while ago, a mortar shell hit an open area in the vicinity of an IDF post in the central Golan Heights, as part of the internal conflict inside Syria, causing no damage or injuries,” it said.
“In response, IDF soldiers fired tank shells towards the source of the fire, confirming direct hits.”
“Fire emanating from Syria into Israel will not be tolerated and shall be responded to with severity,” a statement said, indicating that Israel had filed a complaint with UN observers monitoring the ceasefire line.
Conflict spilling over
A Syrian fighter jet on Monday bombed a rebel-held area near the Turkish border, killing at least six people and wounding a dozen others, while a rocket propelled grenade also landed inside Turkey, officials and witnesses have said.
The jet bombed the town of Ras al-Ain, metres from the Turkish frontier, on Monday as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad tried to wrest control of the area back from rebels.
The bombing sent up huge plumes of black smoke and scores of Syrians ran from the area, scrambling to cross the border fence into Turkey.
Helicopters also strafed targets near the town, which fell to rebels on Thursday during an advance into Syria’s mixed Arab and Kurdish northeast. There was no word on casualties.
The jet struck within metres of the border fence that divides Ras al-Ain from the Turkish settlement of Ceylanpinar, sending up plumes of black smoke.
A Reuters reporter in Ceylanpinar said the plane flew right along the border and appeared at one point to have entered Turkish airspace.
It was not clear what the bomb struck, but scores of civilians fled the area, scrambling over the fence into Turkey.
On the Jordanian frontier, shelling and clashes with rebels left two Syrian border guards dead, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Growing refugee crisis
The escalating violence in northern Syria has caused a refugee crisis in Turkey – more than 120,000 refugees have already crossed over. To Ankara’s alarm, some 9,000 Syrians arrived in one 24-hour period last week.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies launched an emergency appeal on Monday for $34m to help the refugee population in Turkey.
The extra cash was expected to last for six months, Simon Eccleshall, the IFRC’s head of disaster and crisis management, told reporters in Geneva.
He acknowledged though that it was “not unimaginable that [the emergency aid] figure will need to increase”.
Eccleshall added: “We will be regularly revising contingency plans [and perhaps] the emergency appeal.”
Turkey currently has 14 camps, all but one of which are tent camps, and three others are under construction to accommodate the steady influx, according to the IFRC.
The extra aid would go to providing winter assistance to the approximately 100,000 camp-dwellers, as well as emergency food and non-food assistance to up to 20,000 people at the Turkish-Syrian border, Eccleshall said.
He pointed out that the Turkish Red Crescent would assist only people on the Turkish side, but that since the border was “quite open” many Syrians crossed over to pick up aid before heading back to their towns or villages in Syria.
Contingency stocks for an extra 50,000 people were also included in the appeal, he said.
The emergency appeal would especially focus on providing cooking stoves, heaters, blankets and other winter items for Syrian refugees in the country as the cold sets in, as well as food and blankets to the people at the border, IFRC said.