(AP) Turkey renews artillery strikes on Syria
By SUZAN FRASER
Turkey fired on Syrian targets for a second day Thursday but said it has no intention of declaring war, despite tensions after deadly shelling from Syria killed five civilians in a Turkish border town.
Turkey’s Parliament, meanwhile, began an emergency session to discuss a bill authorizing the military to launch cross border operations in Syria. If approved, the bill could more easily open the way to unilateral action by Turkey’s armed forces inside Syria, without the involvement of its Western and Arab allies.
The cross-border tensions escalated on Wednesday after a shell fired from inside Syria landed on a home in the Turkish village of Akcakale, killing a woman, her three daughters and another woman, and wounding at least 10 others, according to Turkish media.
Turkish response was prompt. It fired salvos of artillery rounds deep inside Syria. The NATO military alliance, of which Turkey is a member, met at an emergency session in Brussels, condemned the attack on Turkey and demanded “the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an ally.” It also urged the Syrian regime to “put an end to flagrant violations of international law.”
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi, meanwhile, offered his “sincerest condolences on behalf of the Syrian government to the family of the deceased and the Turkish people.”
He appeared to be trying to reduce tensions, although he said Turkey must do more to control its borders and “prevent militants and terrorists from sneaking across.”
An aide to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday thatTurkey has no intention of declaring war on Syria but that the bill being debated in Parliament on Thursday was intended to give “Syria a warning.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because civil servants are not allowed to speak to journalists without prior authorization.
TRT television reported that a military battalion based on the border town of Akcakale resumed striking Syrian targets across from the frontier overnight and that shelling continued Thursday morning.
Turkish Foreign Ministry officials were not immediately able to confirm the reports of renewed Turkish shelling, while Defense Ministry officials refused comment.
A myriad of Syrian rebel groups have been using Turkish territory as a base for their operations against the troops of Syria’s President Bashar Assad. Thousands have died and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes since the start of the war in Syria last year.
Turkish legislators were debating a bill that would authorize the government to send troops to Syria or for warplanes to strike Syrian targets whenever it deems it necessary. A vote on the authorization, which would be valid for one year, is expected later on Thursday.
The government-proposed bill accuses Syria of carrying out “aggressive acts toward our country’s territory” and says “these acts have continued despite our warnings and diplomatic initiatives.”
If approved it would allow the government to determine “the scope, extent, and time” of any possible intervention.
Turkey, which has moved military reinforcements to the border in recent months, has more than 90,000 Syrian refugees in camps along its border, and also hosts Syrian opposition groups.
There is concern in Turkey that the Syrian chaos could have a destabilizing effect on Turkey’s own communities; some observers have attributed a sharp rise in violence by Kurdish rebels in Turkey to militant efforts to take advantage of the regional uncertainty.
Turkey is still loath to go it alone in Syria, and is anxious for any intervention to have the legitimacy conferred by a U.N. resolution or the involvement of a broad group of allies. Turkey is mindful in part of inconclusive ground missions, mostly in the 1990s, against Kurdish guerrillas based in northern Iraq, as well as the bitter lessons of being seen as an occupying power that are associated with the U.S.-led invasion in Iraq. Reaching deeper into history, Turkey is aware of Mideast sensibilities over Ottoman rule over much of the region.
Additionally, there is no strong push for war among the Turkish public and Ankara is likely to act with some degree of restraint unless it suffers more casualties from Syrian fire in the days ahead. However, approval of the parliamentary bill could open the way to more retaliatory flare-ups along the border, similar to the periodic air and artillery strikes that Turkey has carried out for years against Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq.