The North Atlantic Treaty Organization praised Turkey’s restraint and pledged support as the country’s top general inspected newly deployed units after cross-border shelling by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Radar-assisted Turkish guns have fired on Syrian artillery units and tanks for six consecutive days in response to the deaths of five people struck by a Syrian shell in the Turkish town of Akcakale on Oct. 3 and other shellings. At least 14 Syrian soldiers were killed, Al Arabiya television reported.
Turkey subsequently deployed additional tanks, howitzers and missile defense systems on the border after parliament gave the government a one-year mandate to send forces into Syria if necessary.
NATO, which called the attack on Akcakale “a flagrant breach of international law,” today praised Turkey’s response to Syrian shelling and assured the Turkish government of the alliance’s military support if it is needed.
Tensions between Turkey, a NATO member, and Syria have risen during the 19-month rebellion against Assad’s government, as Turkey offers support to the rebels. These worsened in June, when Syria shot down a Turkish warplane it said was in its airspace and after the Oct. 3 deaths of two women and three children.
“I would like to commend the Turkish government for the restraint it has shown in its response to the completely unacceptable Syrian attacks,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told journalists in Brussels, where defense ministers convened a two-day meeting today.
“We have all necessary plans in place to protect and defend Turkey if necessary,” Rasmussen said. “We hope that won’t be necessary. I do believe the right way forward in Syria is a political solution.”
Article 5 of the NATO treaty, drafted at the start of the Cold War, deems an attack on one member an attack on all. It was invoked only once, in solidarity with the U.S. after the Sept. 11 attacks. Turkey has invoked Article 4, allowing a country to convene a NATO meeting when its security is threatened.
The U.S. and most of its NATO allies have signaled they are reluctant to intervene militarily inside Syria. The conflict began in March 2011 and has left more than 30,000 dead, according to opposition-supporting rights groups. The Local Coordination Committees in Syria said 31 people have died so far today, including 28 in Damascus and its suburbs.
Hundreds of Syrian refugees flee to Turkey daily as Syrian rebels engage in fierce clashes with Syrian troops across the border. Almost 94,000 Syrian refugees are inside the country, the United Nations refugee agency estimated on Oct. 2.
General Necdet Ozel, chief of Turkey’s general staff, today inspected troops in Hatay province, which was hit by seven artillery shells and mortar rounds in the past week, state-run TRT television said. General Hayri Kivrikoglu, chief of the land forces, accompanied Ozel along with several other senior officers, the state-run Anatolia agency said. Ozel will inspect troops in Akcakale tomorrow, TRT television said.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told state-run television on Oct. 6 that Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa hadn’t taken part in massacres and could serve as interim leader if Assad leaves office.
Syria’s Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said yesterday that Davutoglu’s remarks reflect “obvious political and diplomatic confusion and blundering,” Syria’s state-run SANA news agency said. “Turkey isn’t the Ottoman Sultanate; the Turkish Foreign Ministry doesn’t name custodians in Damascus, Mecca, Cairo and Jerusalem,” he said in a reference to the Ottoman empire that ruled Syria until 1918.
Syrian forces have continued firing at rebels along the border even though Turkey has responded to artillery shells or mortars landing inside its territory. At least 27 schools along the border areas in Akcakale remain closed due to fears they could be hit by an errant shell, Anatolia said today.
The two countries share a 911-kilometer (566 mile) border. Turkey has a 720,000-strong military, the second-largest army within the NATO alliance.