BEIRUT — Turkey’s parliament voted
Thursday to authorize military cross-border operations into Syria, a
day after an apparently errant mortar strike from inside Syria killed
five Turkish civilians.
Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay told the Associated Press
that the 320-129 vote “is not for war,” but is intended to deter Syria
from further violence that could spill over the border.
Even before the vote, Turkey launched artillery attacks against
Syria Wednesday night and Thursday in retaliation for the deaths of its
five civilians, marking the most serious escalation in international
tensions since the Syrian revolt erupted 19 months ago.
Though this was not the first time the Syrian conflict
has spilled over into Turkey since Syrians rose up in revolt against
President Bashar al-Assad last year, the five people killed Wednesday
after a shell launched by the Syrian military crashed into the Turkish
border town of Akcakale were the first Turkish civilians to die.
hours, Turkey’s military retaliated with artillery strikes against
unspecified targets, according to a brief statement issued by the office
of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Our armed forces in the
border region responded immediately to this abominable attack in line
with their rules of engagement; targets were struck through artillery
fire against places in Syria identified by radar,” the statement said.
British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights quoted activists in
the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad on Thursday as saying that an
unspecified number of Syrian soldiers were killed by early-morning
Turkish artillery fire that struck a military base.
international concerns that the conflict could escalate further, Syria’s
ally Russia on Thursday urged Syria to publicly admit that its forces
had fired the shell that killed the civilians.
Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Syrian authorities had told him the
incident “was a tragic accident and that it will not happen again,” the
Russian news agency RIA quoted him as saying during a visit to
“We think it is of fundamental importance for Damascus to state that officially,” he added.
Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi told state television late
Wednesday that the government was investigating the source of the
gunfire, but he did not acknowledge Syrian responsibility.
case of border incidents that occur between any two neighboring
countries, countries and governments must act wisely, rationally and
responsibly,” Zoubi said.
NATO, of which Turkey is a member, met in emergency session Wednesday at Turkey’s request and issued a strongly worded statement
calling the Syrian shelling “a flagrant breach of international law and
a clear and present danger to the security of one of its Allies.”
Although NATO pledged to continue to “stand by Turkey,” it proposed no
In Washington on Wednesday, the White House also condemned the
Syrian shelling and affirmed the United States’ solidarity with Turkey.
“We stand with our Turkish ally and are continuing to consult closely on
the path forward,” spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
Pentagon spokesman George Little condemned what he called “the depraved behavior of the Syrian regime.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reiterated the United
States’ support for Turkey in a telephone call with Turkish Foreign
Minister Ahmet Davotoglu and pledged that the United States would stand
by Turkey in any future discussions of the crisis at the United Nations,
according to State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland.
Turkey sent a letter to the United Nations calling on the
Security Council “to take necessary action to put an end to such acts of
Turks, however, have expressed little appetite for a
war with Syria, and Syria’s government has no interest in provoking
international military intervention in a conflict that it still believes
it can win.
“This is a gesture, not a war,” said Henri Barkey,
professor of international relations at Lehigh University, referring to
the Turkish retaliation.
Erdogan has repeatedly made bombastic
statements about Syria, and the first deaths of Turkish civilians left
him with little choice but to retaliate, Barkey said.
don’t want to go to war,” he said. “They don’t want to do this by
themselves, and there is absolutely no support at home for a war.”
incident nevertheless pointed to the dangers of a conflict that has
already polarized the region, stirring ancient rivalries and newer
“This is the latest manifestation of a worsening
situation,” said Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East
Policy. “This is not the only place it is spilling over. It is spilling
over into Jordan, into Lebanon. They’re shelling on a daily basis. The
difference today is it’s the first time we have a country calling Assad
In a statement issued before the Turkish retaliation, U.N.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued an appeal for restraint, warning
that the incident demonstrated the risks the violence in Syria poses to
“Syria’s conflict is threatening not only the security
of the Syrian people but increasingly causing harm to its neighbors,”
Tension comes to a head
The strike followed more than a year of growing hostility between
Turkey and Syria, former allies who have turned into bitter foes since
Erdogan joined his Western allies in calls for Assad to step down.
The tensions soared sharply after Syria shot down a Turkish jet
in June, killing two pilots over international waters, according to
Turkey, and within Syrian territorial waters, according to Syria.
Meanwhile, a surge in the levels of violence in Syria over the summer months has propelled tens of thousands of refugees into Turkey
straining government resources and heightening government frustrations
with the failure of its Western allies to take tougher action against
The number is likely to grow as the violence continues to rage. A suicide attack in Aleppo on Wednesday
which killed 34 people, signaled that the rebels are growing more
sophisticated in their strikes against government targets, at a time
when the regime is stepping up its assaults against rebel-held areas
with aerial bombardments.
According to state media, two suicide
bombers detonated car bombs containing more than 2,000 pounds of
explosives in the city’s central Saadallah al-Jabri square shortly after
8 a.m., killing 34 people and injuring 122.
A third explosion nearby occurred while officers were dismantling a bomb, according to the official Syrian Arab News Agency.
target, apparently a military officers club, was completely demolished.
The blasts also caused widespread damage to the surrounding area,
ripping the facades off several buildings. State television showed the
bodies of three men wearing military uniforms lying amid piles of
SANA said civilians and military personnel were among
those killed, but rebels claimed that all of the victims were members of
the security forces, saying that the area represented a legitimate
target because it had been turned into what rebel spokesman Mohammed
al-Halbi called “a military barracks.” High-ranking officers were living
at the officers club, and two government-owned hotels damaged in the
blast were being used to accommodate Syrian and Iranian intelligence
operatives, he said.
Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Jabhat al-Nusra
, a militant group that has carried out a string of suicide bombings in Damascus and Aleppo in recent months.
Colum Lynch at the United Nations, Ahmed Ramadan and Suzan
Haidamous in Beirut and James Ball, Anne Gearan, Scott Wilson and Craig
Whitlock in Washington contributed to this report.