Turkey shells Syrian targets but says war not on agenda

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BEIRUT -- Turkey on Thursday resumed retaliatory shelling of targets inside Syria, but a top Turkish official said Ankara had ‘no interest’ in declaring war on its neighbor, according to various reports.

Turkey began artillery attacks Wednesday on Syrian positions near the border district of Tal Abyad, Syrian opposition representatives said, and the Turkish bombardment reportedly continued early Thursday.

A top aide to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on his Twitter account that a full-blown war with Syria was not Ankara’s aim, Turkey’s English-language Hurriyet Daily News reported on its website.

‘Turkey has no interest in a war with Syria,’ wrote Ibrahim Kalin, according to Hurriyet. “But Turkey is capable of protecting its borders and will retaliate when necessary.’


Turkish officials seemed satisfied that the artillery fire had signaled their outrage about Syrian shelling inside Turkey that caused several deaths. Turkey’s move followed a number of Syrian actions that the Turks viewed as provocative, including the downing of a Turkish fighter jet over the eastern Mediterranean in June, killing two pilots.

Still unclear is how Syria will respond to the Turkish bombardment.

There have been unconfirmed reports of casualties on the Syrian side from the Turkish shelling. The duration of Turkey’s salvos will likely play a role in how Syria will proceed.

So far, Damascus’ reaction has been restrained. Syria has said it is investigating the shelling incident that killed Turkish citizens and passed on ‘condolences’ to the Turkish people.

Many in Turkey were enraged that Turks had been killed, a reaction that likely figured in Ankara’s decision to strike back. Reports in the Turkish media indicate that many view the strike on Turkish territory as deliberate and not as a case of errant shelling from the Syrian side.

International leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, have condemned Syria for its role in the incident. Clinton called the crisis ‘a very dangerous situation’ and said Washington was consulting with Ankara, a NATO ally.

Turkey was asking that the United Nations take ‘necessary action,’ but any U.N. move beyond a verbal condemnation of Syria seemed unlikely, analysts said. The United States and other nations have shown little inclination in becoming directly embroiled in the bloody Syrian conflict, now in its 18th month.

Turkish lawmakers were scheduled to extend a legal authorization allowing the country’s military to carry out cross-border operations. But experts say Turkey is unlikely to deploy troops inside Syria, an action that would likely lead to a wider conflict between two major military powers in the region.

The Turkish artillery attacks are said to have targeted Syrian military positions in the border zone of Tal Abyad, which is adjacent to the southeastern Turkish town of Akcakale.

On Wednesday, Turkish authorities say, Syrian military shelling from Tal Abyad hit a residential district of Akcakale, killing five people, including three children, and injuring at least eight others, among them several police officers.

Turkish television aired dramatic footage of panic in Akcakale following the shelling, including scenes of wounded Turkish citizens and efforts to rescue them.

Turkey and Syria share a more than 500-mile-long border, parts of which have become engulfed in the Syrian conflict, as rebels fight to oust Syrian President Bahsar Assad. Turkey once viewed Assad as close ally, but relations have deteriorated sharply.

The conflict in Syria has prompted Turkish officials to call on Assad to step down, and Turkey has provided a haven for Syria’s armed and political opposition. Syria accuses Turkey of harboring and arming ‘terrorists,’ a charge denied by Ankara.


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-- Patrick J. McDonnell and Rima Marrouch