ANKARA (Reuters) - A Turkish border patrol killed one of eight civilians trying to cross illegally from Turkey into Syria on the tense frontier, the Turkish military said on Tuesday.
The shooting was the latest in a string of fatal incidents along the 900 km (560 mile) border and underscores a growing concern that Syria’s more than two-year-old civil war is fuelling lawlessness and dragging in neighboring states.
The military, which did not give the nationality of the eight civilians or say whether they were armed smugglers, said the group had been trying to cross from Turkey’s Hatay province into northwestern Syria on Monday and had fired on the Turkish patrol after the troops had whistled a warning.
The Turkish troops fired back in line with their rules of engagement, killing one of the civilians, it said.
The military has issued frequent statements on border incidents, in which some Turkish troops have been wounded, in the past few weeks, but Monday’s clash appeared to be the first time the army had shot at civilians trying to cross into Syria, and not into Turkey, as is more common.
With its hilly terrain and thick vegetation, Hatay, a panhandle province that juts down into Syria, makes a relatively easy crossing point for smugglers and rebel Syrian fighters, as well as refugees fleeing the fighting in Syria.
Turkey shelters around 500,000 Syrian refugees as well as rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but while backing the Syrian insurgents, it denies arming them.
In the most serious spillover of violence in weeks, a Turkish man was killed and a boy was critically wounded last week by stray bullets fired during clashes between Islamist militants and Kurdish fighters in a Syrian border town several hundred kilometers east of Hatay.
The Turkish military returned fire in that incident as well as after other similar ones along the border since then.
Ankara has become increasingly concerned with the growing violence along its border with Syria, particularly the Kurdish region in the southeast, where it is worried the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria could embolden its own home-grown militants fighting for autonomy in Turkey.
Turkey, which has the second largest army in NATO but is reluctant to act unilaterally in Syria, has also hit out at the United Nations Security Council for failing to come to a unified stance over Syria, and has called on it to take action.
Reporting by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Alistair Lyon