By Umit Bektas and Akin Aytekin
Rockets pounded the Turkish town of Kilis near the Syrian border on Sunday, a Reuters witness reported, killing one person and injuring 26, a day after the government promised to protect the area from repeated attacks by Islamic State militants.
Two rockets struck houses in a poor neighbourhood near the town centre in the morning. Sixteen people were injured and Turkish soldiers near the border returned fire into Syria, security sources said.
Later in the day, one person was killed and 10 more injured when two more rockets crashed into a mosque, Hurriyet Daily News reported. The mosque was 100 metres from the governor’s office, where Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan was holding talks at the time.
“I am calling for our citizens to be calm,” Akdogan told a news conference in Kilis. “All measures will be taken in this regard. Unfortunately there is no authority across our border.”
Akdogan said measures would be announced after a cabinet meeting on Monday.
Lying just across the border from an area of Syria controlled by Islamic State, Kilis has been peppered by rocket fire in recent weeks. On Friday two people were killed in an attack on the town, home to around 110,000 Syrian refugees.
Earlier on Sunday, residents gathered near the houses where the rockets struck, some of them calling for the local governor to resign and others shouting slogans against the government. Riot police were present, but there were no clashes.
“I cannot sleep, my son wakes up with nightmares, he cannot sleep. We aren’t safe here. We are afraid to stay in our houses,” Ayse, a 46-year-old woman, told Reuters.
Visiting the nearby city of Gaziantep on Saturday, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu promised that all necessary measures would be taken to prevent more rocket fire.
He was accompanied by EU Council President Donald Tusk as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel who had been expected to visit Kilis last weekend but the location and timing of the visit were changed.
Merkel said on Saturday she favoured establishing “safe zones” to shelter refugees in Syria. At a news conference with U.S. President Barack Obama on Sunday she said these could be agreed areas where civilians could feel free from bombardment, rather than zones protected by foreign forces.
The militants come to the border on motorcycles and then fire rockets at Kilis, Turkish officials have said. Turkish howitzers at the border have a difficult time firing on the mobile targets.
Officials have said Turkey may call on allies in the U.S.-led coalition to take stronger action in its campaign against Islamic State along the border.
But in Kilis, patience is wearing thin. Residents said they were frustrated by what they called the government’s inability to protect them. “I want the governor to resign,” 26-year-old Murat told Reuters.
“We aren’t even able to sleep.”