AKCAKALE, TURKEY – The first shell that hit landed on a grain dispensary in the late afternoon. The second injured a policeman. Soon after, a third hit, killing five members of a family.
The children had come to their front gate, perhaps out of curiosity, after the first explosion and two women were just behind them in the courtyard of the house. A fourth shell landed soon afterwards, down the street.
“I am not afraid,” said Ibrahim Karaman, a neighbour who had been the first to the scene. He described the choking smoke, gathering the injured, and collecting the body parts of the dead as more people arrived to help.
Another neighbour, disagreed. “Everyone was afraid,” he said.
Although these villagers had different reactions to Wednesday’s incident in which Syrian mortars struck a Turkish town, the strike underscored the fragile state of security on Turkey’s border with Syria. Refugees continue to flee the conflict in Syria, which has, from time to time, spilt over into neighbouring countries such as Turkey.
Residents of Akcakale, a small town straddling Turkey’s 885-kilometre border with Syria, said yesterday they were angry that the Turkish government failed to take adequate steps to protect them from the violence.
“The government is very passive in this situation,” Ali Sonis, the brother of one of the victims, said angrily. He said that for the past month bombs had hit Turkey frequently. “They were waiting for someone to die, then they do something. I believe that what is being done to protect us is not enough.”
One resident estimated that in the past two weeks 70 per cent of Akcakale population had left for the bigger city of Sanliurfa, about 50 kilometres away.
Schools have been closed and the children that remain roam the streets.
They described how for weeks they have heard fighting in Syria and said that at least once before a shell had landed on the Turkish side of the border, causing their houses to shake.
Town residents said that they had been advised to move away by the police, but said they had nowhere else to go.
Other locals reserved their criticism for the regime of Bashar Al Assad.
“I am sure they did those attacks with knowledge [of where they are hitting],” said Mustafa Taka, 58, an employee at the local mayor’s office. Mr Taka noted that once the Turkish military responded, the Syrian regime stopped firing. “If they repeat again then we want [prime minister] Erdogan to reply to them, but on the other side we have relatives [in Syria], we don’t want war.”
Mr Sonis concurred. “The Syrian government wants to push us to war, but the government should not do this because who will bring the dead people back?” he said.
In the village of Oncul, just outside of Akcakale and only a few hundred metres from the border fence, villagers said that the roofs of their houses had been hit by falling bullets from across the border in recent weeks.
“If it wasn’t for our animals, we would leave here,” one man said.
Not far away, the flag of the rebel Free Syrian Army could be seen flying at the border crossing. As the sun began to set gunfire and explosions were heard.
Two Turkish armoured vehicles sat just across the border, their canons pointing towards Syria.
One villager held up what he said was a Syrian bullet, a symbol of how the front line in Syria’s war had come to their doorstep.
Source: The National