Day after deadly cross-border shelling, Syria and Turkey look to pull back from brink of war
Erdogan says shelling was not accidental; Russia blocks Security Council condemnation of cross-border fire
Syria and Turkey aimed to calm tensions Thursday, a day after the killing of a Turkish family from a Syrian shell touched off cross-border fire and threatened to spiral into all out conflict.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters that his country had no intention of opening a war with Syria, despite a move by the parliament in Ankara earlier in the day to authorize force outside Turkey’s borders.
Syria’s UN envoy said his government was not seeking any escalation of violence with Turkey and is investigating the source of the cross-border shelling that killed five Turkish civilians.
The statements came shortly after the international community stepped up efforts to pull the countries back from the brink of conflict.
Speaking after the Parliament passed the bill green lighting military action, Erdogan told reporters that another shell had fallen in the country on Thursday and said a mortar that had been fired the day before could not have been accidental, Today’s Zaman reported. However he also sought to calm fears that war could break out.
“We want peace and security and nothing else. We would never want to start a war,” Erdogan said, speaking from Akcakale, where five people were killed the day before. “Turkey is a country which is capable of protecting its people and borders. No one should attempt to test our determination on the issue.”
On Wednesday, a shell fired from inside Syria landed on a home in the Turkish village of Akcakale, killing a woman, her three daughters and another woman, and wounding at least 10 others, according to Turkish media.
Turkey responded by shelling Syrian targets near the border on Wednesday and Thursday.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari said that the return shelling from Turkey on Thursday morning injured two Syrian army officials.
Ja’afari read reporters a letter he delivered Thursday to the UN Security Council which sent Syria’s “deepest condolences” to the families of the victims and to Turkey.
But he said it did not include an apology because the investigation of the incident had not been completed.
The ambassador said his government was calling on Turkey to act “wisely, rationally” and prevent infiltration of “terrorists and insurgents” and the smuggling of arms across the border.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was alarmed by the spillover of Syria’s raging civil war into Turkey and advocated “maximum constraint” by all concerned.
“As the situation inside Syria deteriorates yet further — including the atrocious terrorist bombings in Aleppo this week which killed dozens of people, including civilians — the risks of regional conflict and the threat to international peace and security are also increasing,” Ban said in a statement.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN and Arab league appointed envoy tasked with finding a solution to Syria’s nearly 19-month civil war, has been in touch with officials on both sides of the border in a bid to ease tensions, a UN spokesperson said.
The United Nations Security Council, however, remained divided over the cross-border shelling that killed five Turkish civilians, with Russia opposing a strong condemnation of its Syrian ally.
The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said council experts were meeting to try to agree on a text.
Russia proposed a watered down text that urged restraint but omitted any mention of violations of international law, according to a Reuters report.
Envoys said the reference to international law was crucial to demonstrate that the Security Council intends to remain involved in solving the conflict.