Border tensions rise as Turkey reacts to Syrian mortar attack
TURKEY’S parliament authorised military operations against Syria yesterday as its army used artillery to fire on targets across the border for a second day, after an incoming mortar shell from Syria killed five civilians in a Turkish town.
Syria admitted it was responsible for the shelling and apologised for the fatalities.
Turkish deputy premier Besir Atalay said Syria had told the United Nations that “such an incident will not occur again”.
The border violence added a dangerous new dimension to Syria’s civil war, dragging its neighbours deeper into a conflict that activists estimate has already claimed 30,000 lives since an uprising against president Bashar al-Assad’s regime began in March last year.
Mr Atalay said the Turkish parliament’s authorisation was not a declaration of war on Syria but gave Turkey the right to respond to any future attacks.
“The bill is not for war,” Mr Atalay said. “It has deterrent qualities.”
Cross-border tensions escalated on Wednesday after a shell fired from Syria landed on a home in the Turkish border village of Akcakale, killing two women and three of their daughters and wounding at least ten other people.
The bill enacted yesterday opens the way for unilateral action by Turkey’s armed forces inside Syria without the involvement of Turkey’s western or Arab allies. Turkey has used a similar provision to repeatedly attack suspected Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq.
Mr Atalay insisted that Turkey’s “main priority” was to “act together with the international community”.
He added: “That is why we called on Nato and the UN to take up the issue.”
The Nato alliance, of which Turkey is a member, held an emergency session in Brussels and condemned the Syrian attack. Nato demanded “the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an ally” and urged Mr Assad’s regime to “put an end to flagrant violations of international law”.
The Turkish response to the shelling was prompt – it fired salvos of artillery rounds deep inside Syria.
Mustafa Guclu, a witness in Akcakale, said the Turkish military fired five rounds of artillery “after midnight” at Syria and another round around 5am yesterday.
The Syrian mortar shell damaged the door and walls of the house in Akcakale, while shrapnel pocked the walls and shattered the windows of nearby residences and shops.
Some Akcakale residents abandoned their homes and spent the night on the streets. Others gathered outside the mayor’s office, afraid to return to their homes as the dull thud of distant artillery fire rumbled on.
Turks have grown weary of the burden of involvement in the Syrian conflict, which includes hosting 90,000 Syrian refugees in camps along the border.
Turkey is reluctant to go it alone in Syria, and is anxious for any intervention to have the legitimacy conferred by a UN resolution or the involvement of a broad group of allies. Turkey is also mindful in part of inconclusive ground missions, mostly in the 1990s, against Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq, as well as the bitter lessons of being seen as an occupying power that are associated with the invasion of Iraq. Turkey is also aware of historic sensitivities over Ottoman rule across the region.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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