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Syrian mortar strikes continue to agitate Turkey, further confrontation likely

10-08-2012 20:22 BJT Special Report:Crisis in Syria |

ANKARA, Oct. 8 (Xinhua) -- Tensions between Turkey and Syria, once close allies, have escalated to a new peak with artillery fire exchange becoming a daily routine over the border line.

On Sunday, Turkey found itself, for the sixth time, in a position to retaliate against a Syrian mortar bomb that fell in the border province of Hatay.

The latest bomb, though inflicting no casualties as it fell on empty land, created uneasiness among local residents as it followed an earlier attack the same day in the border town of Akcakale, where five Turkish civilians were killed by a mortar strike five days ago. It also prompted the closure of Monday's school session in many border towns, including Akcakale.


With new rules of engagement for the Turkish army in place, it has now become a standard operating procedure for the military to respond any attack, deliberate or otherwise, launched by the Syrian forces.

Yet, Turkish analysts worry that continuing the exchange of fire might lead to a war with Syria even though Ankara has made it clear that it has no desire to wage a war against Syria after it received a mandate from the parliament for military operations in Syria following Wednesday's deadly attack.

"We are not interested in war, but we're not far from it either, " Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech delivered in Istanbul on Friday.

"Those who attempt to test Turkey's deterrence, its decisiveness, its capacity, I say here they are making a fatal mistake," he said.

Ahmet Aydin, the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party)'s parliamentary deputy chairman, also reiterated the government position on Monday, saying that Turkey does not want a war with Syria.

He noted, however, that "we will not reciprocate to these ( mortar shells) with flower buckets. If it comes to that [war], we will do whatever required to protect Turkey's territorial integrity."


"The possibility for a war might be low for the time being, but no one should ignore the possibility of higher level military tensions. The situation has the capacity to bring forth more serious military clashes, including a war," Gokhan Bacik, Middle East analyst in Gaziantep, said.

Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, head of Ankara's International Strategic and Security Research Center (USGAM), also told Xinhua that a new page has opened in Turkey's distressed relations with Syria.

"I think we are closer to a war than ever before. Turkey does not want a war but Syria, fighting for the survival of the regime, is committed to proving that the Syrian conflict may escalate into a region-wide war by pulling Turkey and other countries into the conflict," Erol said.

Erol meanwhile urged the Turkish government to be very vigilant on how to react events unfolding in Syria.

Amanda Paul, policy analyst at Brussels-based the European Policy Center and columnist for Turkish daily Today's Zaman, argued that spreading violence beyond Syria's borders made the Syrian crisis an urgent matter that needs to be dealt earnestly.

"For Turkey, the situation continues to go from bad to worse," she said, adding that Ankara's strategy towards Syria has increasingly backfired on them as the conflict has descended into sectarian warfare.

The Syrian army has been battling the opposition forces in border areas with Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

The Bashar al-Assad government claimed that the mortar shells that landed on neighboring countries' soil were strayed ones. But in response, Turkey said recurrence of mortar attacks against Turkey was not accidental.

In a joint news conference with visiting Iran's Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi last week, Erdogan said there were shells fell on the Turkish soil in the past seven times until a deadly one occurred in Akcakale.

"These attacks can't be accident," he said, suggesting a pattern of deliberate fire by Syria to drag Turkey into a war.

The world's concern over an escalation of the conflict between Ankara and Damascus is also mounting. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Saturday that the tensions along the Turkish-Syrian border have led to worries that the conflict may spread to neighboring countries.

Meanwhile, Ankara has been complaining about the influx of Syrian refugees, which, according to official figures, has neared 100,000. While it is estimated that another 20,000 to 30,000 Syrians are living on their own means without official registry with camps set up by Turkish authorities.

The Turkey government said it has spent more than 300 million U. S. dollars on refugees so far and has asked international organizations and foreign countries to share the financial burden with it.


In an effort to resolve the 18-month-old Syrian crisis, Turkey has over the weekend proposed a transitional government led by Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa.

During a TV interview on Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu praised al-Sharaa as a man of reason and conscience, saying that nobody in Syria knew the political system better than him.

The opposition is reportedly warm to an interim government in Syria led by al-Sharaa as well.

The Free Syrian Army's (FSA) political advisor Bessam Dade told the Turkish government news agency on Monday that Davutoglu's offer may be the best option to stop the bloodshed in Syria.



Editor:Zhang Dan |Source: Xinhua

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