The UN Security Council condemned Syria “in the strongest terms” on Thursday for its deadly shelling of Turkey, while UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged restraint along the neighbours’ tinder-box border.
Turkey had demanded strong Security Council action after Syrian fire killed five Turkish women and children on Wednesday, prompting retaliatory Turkish strikes against a military position inside Syria that reportedly killed several soldiers.
After hours of haggling between Turkey’s Western allies on the Security Council and longtime Syria backer Russia, the top UN body issued its statement, which although toughly worded was a rung down from a formal resolution.
“The members of the Security Council condemn in the strongest terms the shelling by the Syrian armed forces,” the statement said.
The text also urged “restraint” and Guatemala’s ambassador to the United Nations, the current council president, said this applied to both Syria and Turkey.
Nearly all of the strongly worded message, however, was aimed at Syria.
Saying the shelling “highlighted the grave impact the crisis in Syria has on the security of its neighbours and on regional peace,” the council “demanded that such violations of international law stop immediately and are not repeated.”
Earlier, Ban urged “maximum restraint.”
“The secretary-general calls on all concerned to abandon the use of violence, exercise maximum restraint and exert all efforts to move toward a political solution,” said his spokesman, Martin Nesirky.
Wednesday’s incident marked the first time that Turkish civilians -- including a mother and her three children -- have been killed by Syrian fire since the start of an uprising in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad in March last year.
Turkey retaliated by counter-shelling a Syrian position. Reports spoke of several Syrian soldiers killed, but the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations said two soldiers were only wounded.
In calling for restraint, Ban warned of the danger of the conflict in Syria spilling into neighbouring states.
“As the situation inside Syria deteriorates yet further..., the risks of regional conflict and the threat to international peace and security are also increasing,” he said.
The special UN-Arab League envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has been encouraging an easing of tensions in contacts with Turkish and Syrian officials, Nesirky said.
Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, meanwhile, said Damascus was not seeking an escalation in tensions with Turkey or other countries.
“The Syrian government has a key interest in maintaining good neighbourly relations with Turkey,” Ambassador Bashar Jaafari told reporters.
“In case of border incidents between any two neighbouring countries, governments should act wisely, rationally and reasonably.”
But he called on the Turkish government to cooperate with Syria on controls to “prevent armed groups from infiltrating through this border” to stage attacks in Syria.
The incident again highlighted divisions between Russia and the West over Syria.
In Washington, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Turkish retaliatory fire had been an “appropriate” and “proportional” response to the Syrian shelling and had been intended to deter future aggression.
However, Russia, which accuses the West of fuelling the conflict by helping the insurgents, said Syria’s original strike had been “a tragic accident.”
It is “vital that Damascus states this officially,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
At the United Nations, Russia is working to get a Security Council statement condemning the huge bombing by rebels of a government-held square in the Syrian battleground city of Aleppo. The bombing was claimed by a jihadist group.
Talks on the Russian initiative were expected to take place Friday.