On Wednesday Turkey fired on Syrian government targets in response to the shelling of the border town of Akcakale from Syrian territory when five civilians were killed. The shooting lasted the other day. According to the Turkish authorities the shelling was apparently conducted by Syrian government forces. It’s the first time ever Turkey has fired into the Syrian territory during the 18-month-long internal conflict there. It's also the first time that Turkish citizens have been killed by fire from the Syrian side of the border. And again – it's the first time that Turkey responded by shelling selected targets inside Syria. The flare-up brings the growing tension between the two countries up to a new level. The Turkish parliament has already granted authority to preemptively strike its neighbor.
The resolution opens the way for unilateral action by Turkey's armed forces inside Syria without the involvement of Turkey's Western or Arab allies. Any deployment would be over a one-year period. Turkey has used a similar provision to repeatedly attack suspected Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq. The Turkish military has already deployed reinforcements to Suruç district near the area. The 20th armored brigade has transferred dozens of tanks and armored vehicles to the Syrian border after the shooting took place. The developments underscore longstanding fears that the spillover from Syria's more than 18-month-long civil war could ignite a wider regional conflict. Before the event, on September 28 Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called again for the establishment of safe zones, an action that in fact would be an act of war. Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan has repeatedly denounced Syrian President al-Assad, publicly calling on him to step down after accusing him of massacring his own people. Meanwhile the Syrian government has accused Turkey of arming and funding Syrian rebels. The numerous witness reports confirm assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns are coming from Turkey to Syrian anti-government militants. In June the Syrian government announced it shot down a Turkish military reconnaissance plane after it had crossed into Syrian airspace. Two Turkish pilots were killed in the incident. The Turkish government continues to insist the jet was shot down by a surface-to-air missile after it left Syrian airspace – the claims denied by Syrian government.
The UN Security Council is due to meet later to condemn Syria's actions. Turkey also asked the UN Security Council to take "necessary action" to stop Syrian "aggression". U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned the strikes demonstrate "how Syria's conflict is threatening not only the security of the Syrian people but increasingly causing harm to its neighbors."
NATO has already held an urgent meeting in Brussels under the article 4 of the Washington treaty that asserts the integrity of the 28 members. Article 5, which commits NATO to come to the defense of a member state under attack, was not involved this time. The final statement says the Alliance "continues to stand by Turkey and demands the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an ally, and urges the Syrian regime to put an end to flagrant violations of international law".
The EU's chief diplomat Catherine Ashton strongly condemned Syria on Thursday.
Washington also issued a strong statement condemning the incident and called for the Assad regime to step aside. "All responsible nations must make clear that it is long past time for Assad to step aside, declare a ceasefire and begin the long-overdue political transition process," according to House spokesman Tommy Vietor. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "We are outraged that the Syrians have been shooting across their border."
At the same time the Syria admitted it was responsible for the shelling that killed five civilians in Turkey and has formally apologized for the deaths. The statement says the investigation is launched to make precise the source of the gunfire. Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi stressed “the governments must act wisely, rationally and responsibly, particularly since there's a special condition on the Syrian-Turkish borders in terms of the presence of undisciplined terrorist groups spread across the borders who have varying agendas and identities.”
Russia called on all of the Security Council countries to take a balanced approach to the recent crisis at the Turkey-Syria border and not to accept a one-sided joint statement. It claimed that the Security Council essentially used the wording unaltered from the Turkish version. According to Russia’s stance the terms used in the draft statement blamed Syria’s government forces for the incident while failing to mention Turkey's military response against Syrian targets. On a visit to Pakistan Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed his government's concern over the escalation of tensions.
Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad, he said Syria had assured Russia that such an incident as the shelling would not happen again. The comments came as the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front claimed responsibility for Wednesday's bombings that killed at least 40 people and wounded 90 more in Aleppo. The group said the strikes at a popular square were carried out by suicide bombers who drove explosive-laden vehicles and armed gunman disguised as Syrian security forces. Somehow no NATO, EU, the Arab League or any other international body condemned the action.
It’s an intriguing fact the Syria-Turkey border clash took place exactly at the time some other important events took place.
For instance it happened right after the Syrian President’s visit to war-torn Aleppo where he announced his decision to bring in strong 30 thousand troops and armor units to quell the rebellion in the city.
The shelling occurred right after UN special mediator Lakhdar Brahimi announced his decision to establish his office in Cairo instead of New York to be near to the conflict area and intensify the efforts aimed at the crisis management together with the group of four – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran.
This is precisely the time Iran, the major Syria’s ally, is facing domestic problems to deviate the attention from Syrian conflict. Hundreds of demonstrators in Teheran clashed with riot police on the very same day the shelling took place during protests against the crisis over the country's currency.
The present deterioration of the Syria-Turkey relationship distracts Syrian forces from Aleppo battle making them face new possible threat from Turkey in case it takes retaliatory action. Now the Brahimi mission will have to concentrate of the border situation instead of the Syria’s issue in general at the time another important negotiator – Iran has to focus on its own security.
Another aspect is critically important to stress. There is each and every reason to believe it was an incident or a provocation. Syria is facing too many problems at present, no way its government wants is to add new ones.
The situation in Syria is murky, there are different actors pursuing different goals involved, it is uncertain what their allegiances and motives are. It’s only natural to guess under the circumstances that the shooting episode will be used by one side or another to serve its interests. There are various parties interested in exacerbating the situation and dragging in new actors. For instance, the anti-government forces in Syria strongly push for NATO-established no-fly zones or ground no-go buffer areas allegedly created under the pretext of refugees’ protection. The very fact that all the strong words mentioned above are addressed immediately and exclusively to the Syrian government without waiting for investigation results, without any attempt to make head or tail of what exactly happened and who the perpetrators are makes one wonder. Rendering help to anti-government forces destabilizes the situation. The destabilization creates uncertainty leading to incidents or provocations. So you reap what you sow. Syria has apologized and expressed condolences. It promised to do its best to prevent incidents in future. There is no reason to exacerbate the shaky situation further. No doubt there’ll be attempts to take advantage out of what happened and do just that – incite tension and make things worse. There are forces interested in such scenario. The international bodies should take it into account and stick to impartial, cautious and prudent approach to avoid the conflict spilling over the Syrian borders.
Still the main practical result of the border shooting is the decision taken by Turkish parliament to “legalize” a military intervention into Syria. Now the events take a turn for the worse – the way for the repetition of Libyan-style scenario and triumph of NATO interventionism is open…