Despite a Turkish-led assault to uproot Islamic State fighters from northern Syria, rockets launched Thursday from remaining IS-held areas hit a Turkish border town, wounding at least eight people, including children, near a busy market, Turkish officials said.
It was the first major attack on the town of Kilis since Turkish troops crossed into Syria last month with Turkish-backed rebels in an offensive to push IS from border areas.
Until the Euphrates Shield operation, as Turkey calls it, Kilis was under a daily barrage of shelling from IS positions that in recent months killed at least 21 people, wounded 80, destroyed neighborhoods and sent residents fleeing for safe havens.
"We entered Syria because these rockets are damaging property and human life," Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters in Ankara. "We want to establish security."
The Turkish military said in a statement that at least three rockets were fired on Kilis on Thursday.
Turkish forces tracked the source of the attacks and returned fire, the military said. Turkish jets were also dispatched to bomb IS-held positions.
Later, U.S.-led coalition planes conducted 20 airstrikes against IS in Syria, "neutralizing" 40 militants, the Turkish military said.
"Clashes were continuing between [Syrian] rebels ... and IS terror group elements who carried out a broad attack to take back areas they had lost," the military said in a statement. "Many [IS] targets were neutralized."
A terror alert over a possible attack by militants on the regional capital, Gaziantep, which is near Kilis, has put southeastern Turkey on high alert.
The U.S. Embassy in Ankara warned businesses with Western ties in Gaziantep to be vigilant. After the warning, some shopping centers closed and shoppers vacated malls.
Police were stationed outside major shopping areas.
"There are reports of a police investigation into a terror cell in Gaziantep," the embassy said in a statement. "The information suggests the terrorists are possibly targeting shopping centers, Starbucks, Big Chef Restaurants and/or other businesses catering to Western customers."
The renewed attacks on Kilis angered some residents. People in Kilis protested for months about what they said was the government's lack of an adequate response to the aerial attacks before the Turkish incursion into Syria.
"The Turkish military keeps announcing that they have been able to take control of a considerable portion of IS-controlled Syrian lands near the Turkish border," Adem Canozer, a journalist with the local newspaper, Gazete Kilis, told VOA. "But many locals in the city, including myself, do not find those official statements convincing. If they are cleansing Syria of the IS, why are we still attacked by the terror group?"
Thursday's attack will most likely give Turkey added urgency to drive deeper militarily into Syria with Turkish-backed rebels. Turkish troops have yet to gain a foothold deep enough into Syria to push IS out of rocket-range capability, analysts say.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this week that a Turkish-backed force could push farther south into Syria toward the IS-held town of al-Bab.
"Turkey's official aim of expanding its military operation to the Syrian city of al-Bab or even farther to the south is to push IS out of an area of 50 kilometers and to take Kilis out of the [rocket] range," Burak Bekdil, an Ankara-based Defense News journalist, told VOA. "IS might be trying to show that they have the capacity to attack from the region where Turkey is carrying out a military operation."
Turkish officials have been pushing for a "safe zone" in northern Syria. But Turkey has received scant international support for the idea, saying it would require too much military manpower and hardware.
Some material for this report came from Reuters.