Turkey’s Parliament approved military action against Syria yesterday, though they downplayed it as not a prelude to an invasion or a “war mandate.” But while Syria apologized for cross-border shelling that killed five in Turkey and drew this response, the Turkish military fired over the border for a second day, as the Turkish Prime Minister announced more provocations from their neighbor.
The two moves suggested that Turkey is preparing to take a more aggressive stance against Syria in the wake of an incident Wednesday in which mortar shells killed a woman, three of her children and a neighbor in the Turkish border town of Akcakale, where rebels seeking to topple the government of President Bashar Assad recently had seized the Syrian side of the crossing point.
“This was not the first attack of Syria against Turkey,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan later told a news conference. “There were seven other attacks made by Syria on Turkey in recent times.”
Syria apologized for the incident and promised that it would not be repeated, according to Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Besir Atalay. But Erdogan said another mortar round fired from Syria fell Thursday on the town of Altinozou in Hatay province, where the city of Antakya has become a center for the Syrian rebel movement. It was unclear whether rebel and Syrian forces were clashing nearby. Altinozou is 250 miles west of Akcakale.
The UN condemned the Syrian cross-border shelling, coming in on the side of the Turks, who are a NATO ally. Even Russia agreed to the condemnation, after watering down the text. But Russia did agree that the shelling violated international law.
30,000 have died inside Syria so far in their civil war that evolved from the Arab uprising. Syria has periodically accused Turkey of harboring anti-government rebels, and have either fired into the border region or at Turkish planes on a number of occasions. Syria also believes that Turkey has facilitated arms shipments to rebel groups and wants them to close the border. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
So there is enough tension here for this to escalate. And with Kurdish separatists harboring inside Syrian territory, this provides a pretexts for the Turks to move against them, a separate but interlocking issue to the Turkey-Syria conflict. An offshoot of the PKK, the main Kurdish separatist group, has been granted practically all the territory in northeastern Syria around the border, a provocative act by Assad.
We could see something as relatively innocuous as a demilitarized zone around the border, or a much more aggressive infiltration. I don’t think the cross-border skirmishes will end, however.