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Tension escalates along Turkey-Syria border

Many fear the region could become the starting point of a regional war that no one seems to want but that appears to be closer than ever.

October 14, 2012|By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times

Meantime, refugees continue to pour into Turkish territory, straining resources and creating social stress in border areas.

Antiwar protests have become commonplace in Turkey, including a rally Saturday in Antakya, near the Syrian border, which featured demonstrators carrying placards proclaiming, "We don't want Al Qaeda." The city and surrounding Hatay province are home to considerable numbers of Alawites, from the same sect as Assad. Many support the Syrian leader and denounce Turkey's backing of "terrorists" in neighboring Syria.

Within Turkey, experts say, there seems to be considerable public support for "proportionate" Turkish retaliation for perceived Syrian provocations, such as the mortar round that killed the five Turks this month. At the moment, war does not appear imminent. But another deadly incident like the strike in Akcakale, causing additional Turkish casualties, could push Turkey down a path of ever-escalating responses, with unknown consequences.

For a decade, Turkey has prospered in part because of its stability and distance from the turmoil roiling much of the region. Now some fear that period of progress and relative peace could be ending as Turkey is increasingly drawn into a conflict that has no clear end, and may get worse before it gets better.

"The danger is that Turkey could set up tripwires that lead to ever greater escalation," said Hugh Pope, project director for Turkey and Cyprus at the International Crisis Group. "The risk of an accident is great."

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

Special correspondent Rima Marrouch contributed to this report.

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