Ankara: The Turkish military fired back into Syria on Monday in retaliation for mortar shells and a rocket from over the border that hit a mosque in the town of Yayladagi, the provincial governor’s office and local media said.
Three mortar rounds landed on Turkish soil, fired during fighting between the Islamist rebels in Syria and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad for control of the Armenian Christian village of Kasab, Turkey’s Dogan News Agency said.
Islamist insurgents launched an offensive about ten days ago into Syria’s Latakia region on the Mediterranean coast, taking both the border crossing and Kasab on the Syrian side.
Since then, Al Assad has sent army and militia reinforcements, backed by air power, to repulse the rebels, leading to heavy fighting across the strip of territory along the Turkish border.
“Our artillery troops have fired back at the region from where the shots originated,” the Hatay governor’s office said in a statement on its website.
The mortar shells hit a field, the statement said, but the rocket hit a mosque next to a refugee camp, injuring a 50-year-old Syrian woman who was passing by.
Turkey has been one of Assad’s staunchest opponents and hosts around 900,000 refugees from Syria’s civil war. Its 900km frontier with Syria has seen frequent spillovers of violence from the conflict.
Meanwhile, government forces backed by militia fighters and warplanes pounded rebel units in Latakia province on Monday in a desperate effort to regain control of towns and villages in Al Assad’s ancestral homeland recently lost to an opposition offensive.
Activists said fighting between Al Assad loyalists and rebels was concentrated in the northern edge of Latakia province. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human said government troops bombarded rebel positions with artillery as they tried to capture several strategic hilltops. Fighter jets also carried out several airstrikes.
State TV said army troops captured one of the hilltop positions known as the Observatory 45. It is a strategic post that is key to both sides because it has a commanding view of the contested surrounding mountains and green plains below. The rebels and opposition groups have not confirmed its capture.
It later showed footage of what it said were rebels killed in the area during the government offensive. Several bearded men in military uniforms lay dead, covered with blood, as government troops stood in the background.