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SYRIA

Turkey's parliament approves military operations inside Syria after civilian deaths

Parliament gives the go-ahead for Turkish troops to move across the border as a deterrent after Syrian shelling causes five civilian deaths

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 October, 2012, 4:34am
 

Turkey's parliament authorised military operations against Syria and its military fired on targets there for a second day after deadly shelling from Syria killed five civilians in a Turkish border town.

For its part, Syria admitted it was responsible for the shelling in Turkey and formally apologised for the deaths, a top Turkish official said.

Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said Syria has reassured the UN that "such an incident will not occur again".

The border violence has added a dangerous new dimension to Syria's civil war, dragging the country's neighbours deeper into a conflict that activists say has already killed 30,000 people since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime began in March 2011.

Atalay said parliament's authorisation yesterday was not a declaration of war on Syria but gives Turkey the right to respond to any future attacks.

"The bill is not for war," Atalay said. "It has deterrent qualities."

Cross-border tensions escalated on Wednesday after a shell fired from inside Syria landed on a home in the Turkish village of Akcakale, killing two women and three of their daughters and wounding at least 10 others, according to Turkish media.

Yesterday's bill 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 attack suspected Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq.

Still, Atalay said Turkey's "main priority" was to "act together with the international community".

"That is why we called on Nato and the United Nations to take up the issue," Atalay said.

The Nato military alliance, of which Turkey is a member, met at an emergency session in Brussels and condemned the attack on Turkey.

Nato demanded "the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an ally" and urged the Syrian regime to "put an end to flagrant violations of international law".

The Turkish response to the shelling was prompt - it fired salvoes of artillery rounds deep inside southern neighbour Syria.

Mustafa Guclu, a witness in Akcakale, said the Turkish military fired five rounds of artillery "after midnight" towards Syria and another round at around dawn yesterday.

"I have not heard any more shelling since then," he said.

The Syrian mortar shell damaged the door and walls of a house in Akcakale, while shrapnel poked holes and shattered windows of neighbouring houses and shops.

Some residents of Akcakale abandoned their homes close to the border and spent the night on the streets. Others gathered outside the mayor's office, afraid to return to their homes as distant artillery fire rumbled.

Turks have grown weary of the Syrian conflict, which involves the hosting of 90,000 Syrian refugees in border camps.

Yet Turkey is still reluctant to go it alone in Syria, and is anxious for any intervention to have the legitimacy of a UN 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 associated with the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Reaching deeper into history, Turkey is aware of Middle East sensitivity over Ottoman rule.

China yesterday called on Turkey and Syria to show restraint and to respect each other's sovereignty, according to Xinhua.

"We appeal to all relevant sides including Turkey and Syria to exercise restraint and refrain from taking any action that will escalate tensions in order to maintain peace and stability in the region," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

On a visit to Pakistan yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed his government's concern over the escalation of tensions.

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