Turkey tamps down talk of going to war with Syria

After Syria shelled a Turkish town yesterday and killed five civilians, Turkey returned fire and went to NATO. However, experts say Turkey's moves are more about deterrence.

(AP Photo/Anatolia)
In this Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012 photo, people and security officials are seen after a shelling attack in Akcakale, Turkey, on the border with Syria. The shelling killed a woman, her three daughters and another woman, and wounding at least 10 others, according to Turkish media.

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Turkish artillery shelled targets in Syria for a second day in retaliation for a mortar attack that killed five Turkish civilians. But while Turkey is debating authorization of military action in parliament and called an emergency meeting of NATO to discuss the incident, officials say that the government has no plans to declare war.

The Associated Press reports that the Turkish military fired several artillery rounds into Syria early today, according to a witness. Mustafa Guclu, who lives in Akcakale, the Turkish town hit yesterday by Syrian mortars, said they fired five rounds of artillery "after midnight" and another round around 5 a.m. on today.  According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, several Syrian troops were killed by the Turkish attack, the BBC reports.

The slew of attacks come in response to yesterday's shelling of Akcakale by Syrian mortars, which killed two woman and three children in the worst case of cross-border violence into Turkey since the Syrian uprising began. AP adds that, according to Turkish media, at least 10 others were injured in the attack. 

The Syrian mortar shell damaged the door and walls of a house in Akcakale, while shrapnel drilled holes and shattered windows of neighboring 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 local mayor's office, afraid to return to their homes as the dull thud of distant artillery fire rumbled across the town.

According to Russian media reports, Syrian officials told the Kremlin that the attack was a "tragic accident" and not an intentional assault on Turkey, reports Reuters. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, urged Damascus to publicly acknowledge the mistake.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's office condemned the attack, saying that Turkey would "never leave unanswered such kinds of provocation by the Syrian regime against our national security." Mr. Erdogan also put forward a bill in parliament that would grant "a one-year-long permission to make the necessary arrangements for sending the Turkish Armed Forces to foreign countries," reports Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News.

Opposition parties condemned the bill as an authorization of war, and are expected to vote against it. But one of Erdogan's senior advisers, Ibrahim Kalin, commented on the military situation on Twitter, saying, "Turkey has no interest in a war with Syria. But Turkey is capable of protecting its borders and will retaliate when necessary."

Experts told Hurriyet that the bill did not necessarily mean war.

“Issuing a bill to authorize military operation does not mean declaring a war. It could make a deterrent effect. Issuing the bill as soon as possible would be beneficial for that. If the disturbance [Syria caused on the border] gets worse, Turkey could take action,” retired Gen. Armağan Kuloğlu said.

And while last night Turkey called an emergency meeting of NATO, of which it is part, to review the incident, a military reaction by the alliance seems highly unlikely. The Guardian reports that while NATO ambassadors condemned the attack on Turkey and called for an immediate end to "aggressive acts" by Syria, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the alliance was cool to the idea of getting militarily involved. "Syria is a very, very complex society," he said. "Foreign military interventions could have broader impacts."

The Guardian also notes that yesterday's emergency meeting was called under Article 4 of the NATO treaty, which calls for consultation "whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened." Importantly, it did not invoke the weightier Article 5, which declares that "an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all" that permits a military response by the entire alliance against the attacking forces. Invocation of Article 5 would likely prelude direct military action by NATO.

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