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Turkey says it has no intention for war with Syria

Turkish retaliatory strikes continue for a second day and lawmakers approve further military actions against Syria, heightening fears of a regional war.

October 05, 2012|By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times
  • Turkish soldiers move into position in the southern border town of Akcakale, across from Tal Abyad in Syria.
Turkish soldiers move into position in the southern border town of Akcakale,… (Bulent Kilic / AFP/Getty…)

BEIRUT — Turkish officials declared their country does not want to enter a war with Syria, even as lawmakers authorized further military operations against the embattled nation and Turkish artillery struck Syrian positions for a second day.

"We have no intention for a war," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told journalists in Ankara, reported the semiofficial Anatolian news agency. "We want only peace and security in our region."

Turkey's retaliatory artillery strikes on Syrian territory have ratcheted up fears that Syria's more-than-18-month civil conflict could trigger a regional war in the volatile Middle East.

Turkey unleashed an artillery bombardment on Syria in response to what Turkish officials called a Syrian military shelling Wednesday that hit a Turkish border town and killed five people, including a woman and her three children. The incident drew outrage in Turkey and elsewhere.

The episode also escalated tensions in the volatile region and prompted emergency meetings at both the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, of which Turkey is a member.

In a statement late Thursday, the U.N. Security Council said it condemned the shelling "in the strongest terms."

"This incident highlighted the grave impact the crisis in Syria has on the security of its neighbors and on regional peace and stability," the Security Council said. It called for an end to such violations of international law.

Turkish officials appeared determined to play down any possibility of a war with Syria, despite parliament's approval Thursday of a measure that would allow additional military operations outside Turkish borders. Turkish officials quickly labeled the parliamentary action a "deterrent" that did not signal a widening conflict with Syria.

"This is not a war mandate," Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay told reporters in Ankara after lawmakers voted.

Outside the parliament building, police used tear gas to disperse antiwar protesters, according to media reports.

Turkey's artillery strikes on Syrian territory ended about dawn Thursday, said a Syrian rebel in the Syrian border district of Tal Abyad.

"There is complete silence here," said the fighter, who gave his name as Abu Yazan.

Syrian rebels occupied Tal Abyad, which is across the border from Akcakale, two weeks ago after fierce fighting with Syrian military forces. But the Syrian military continued shelling rebel positions in the town, the opposition says, and several shells landed in Turkey before Wednesday's fatal incident.

Syria has not publicly acknowledged responsibility for the incident, nor has it issued a public apology. Damascus has expressed "condolences" to the Turkish people and said it is investigating.

Russia, a close ally of Syria, said it had been informed by Syria that the incident was a "tragic accident" that would not be repeated, said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, according to Russian news reports.

Turkish authorities seemed satisfied that the retaliatory artillery fire had signaled their outrage to Syria. Turkey's move followed a number of Syrian actions that the Turks viewed as provocative, including the downing of a Turkish fighter jet over the eastern Mediterranean in June, killing two pilots.

There have been unconfirmed reports of casualties on the Syrian side from the Turkish shelling.

Turkish news reports indicate that many view the strike on Turkish territory as deliberate and not as a case of errant shelling from the Syrian side.

International leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, have condemned Syria for its role in the incident. Clinton called the crisis "a very dangerous situation."

Turkey has asked the United Nations to take "necessary action." But the U.N. is deeply divided about Syria and efforts to craft a statement about the incident had run into objections from various nations, including Russia. Moscow was said to be pushing for a U.N. statement calling on all sides to act with "restraint," and avoiding a direct condemnation of Syria's actions.

The United States and other nations have shown little inclination toward becoming directly embroiled in the bloody Syrian conflict, now in its 19th month.

Turkish television aired dramatic footage of panic in Akcakale after the shelling, including scenes of wounded Turkish citizens and efforts to rescue them.

Turkey and Syria share a more-than-500-mile-long border, parts of which have become engulfed in the Syrian conflict, as rebels fight to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. Turkey once viewed Assad as close ally, but relations have deteriorated sharply.

The conflict in Syria has prompted Turkish officials to call on Assad to step down, and Turkey has provided a haven for Syria's armed and political opposition. Syria accuses Turkey of harboring and arming "terrorists," a charge denied by Ankara.

Special correspondent Rima Marrouch contributed to this report.

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