Turkey scrambles fighter jets as Syria bombs city of Ras Ayn
BEIRUT -- Turkey scrambled fighter jets after Syrian warplanes bombed the rebel-held border city of Ras Ayn in northeastern Syria on Monday, killing at least eight people and injuring 16, according to opposition accounts and at least one person reached in the town.
The bombardment shattered windows on the Turkish side and sent people from Ras Ayn fleeing into Turkey, where ambulances took the wounded to hospitals.
Last month, a Syrian rebel force seized Ras Ayn, once home to more than 50,000 people, from government control. Thousands fled to Turkey during the fighting and an intense government bombing campaign that left dozens of civilians dead, residents say.
After government forces were chased out, clashes erupted between Syrian rebels and Kurdish militiamen in an area where Kurds represent a major segment of the population. Many Kurds are wary of the Arab-led rebellion against Syrian President Bashar Assad, though they also have concerns about Assad and his autocratic ways.
For the last week or so, residents said, a truce had held in Ras Ayn. Kurdish militiamen and Arab rebels patrolled different areas of the city. Some refugees had returned from Turkey. On Monday, however, the uneasy calm was shattered anew.
“Today people were running away again, a mass exodus,” said a resident who asked to be identified only as Kaniwar for security reasons. “Many are saying they are not coming back home until they know for sure that Bashar is gone and no more airplanes will come.”
Monday’s bombing occurred as NATO seems poised to approve the deployment of Patriot missiles along the Turkish side of the border with Syria. Turkey has requested deployment of the defensive missile system, in part to thwart any potential Syrian strike on Turkey with chemical warheads.
Syria and its major allies, Russia and Iran, have voiced strong reservations about the deployment, calling it an unwelcome provocation.
In Istanbul on Monday, differences on Syria seemed to overshadow a long-awaited meeting between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Turkey has called for Assad to step down and has allowed its territory to be used as a logistics and staging base for Syrian rebels. Russia has been a steadfast supporter of Assad and called for a negotiated end to the conflict.
Putin’s visit to Turkey, originally scheduled for October, was put off after Turkey intercepted a Syrian passenger jet headed from Moscow to Damascus and forced it to land, alleging that the plane was ferrying weapons to Syria. Moscow denied the allegation. Syria denounced it as an act of piracy.
At the end of Monday’s meeting, Putin acknowledged that Russia and Turkey had been unable to agree on “common approaches” to resolving the conflict in Syria.
Marrouch is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell contributed to this report.
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