Turkey’s top general warned of a tougher response if Syrian shells continue to land on Turkish soil following six days of retaliatory barrages by his forces against President Bashar al-Assad’s army.
General Necdet Ozel, chief of the Turkish general staff, made the comments today as he inspected troops in Akcakale as well as the border town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, CNN-Turk television said. Ozel observed Syrian territory through a thermal camera before speaking to soldiers in a foxhole in Suruc, the state-run Anatolia news agency said.
“If it continues, we will make a stronger response,” the NTV television website quoted Ozel as saying about the shelling. “We retaliated immediately, we also inflicted losses.”
Radar-assisted Turkish guns fired on Syrian positions for six consecutive days from Oct. 3 in response to a Syrian artillery shell that killed five people in Akcakale. At least 14 Syrian soldiers were killed, Al Arabiya television reported.
Turkey has reinforced its military presence on the 911-kilometer (566 mile) frontier between the two countries after its parliament authorized entry into Syria if the attacks continue. Tensions between Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member, and Syria have risen during the 19-month rebellion against Assad’s government, as Turkey offers support to the rebels.
Ozel shook hands of residents in Akcakale and at one point raised his fist in the air, saying today: “We are here, we are standing strong,” NTV reported. No firing was reported yesterday.
Syria is not looking for a military confrontation with Turkey and is investigating the shelling that caused the five deaths, Jihad Makdissi, Syria’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said today in a phone interview.
“Syria is in a self-defensive mode and we will act accordingly, but we are not looking for any military confrontation,” he said. “What happened was an incident not an attack. This incident is because of the presence of armed groups in that area.”
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in Paris yesterday that the Assad regime should enact an immediate cease-fire which the rebels should accept. In an e-mailed statement today, Makdissi said the Syrian government has informed Ban that Syria had tried that suggestion twice before and “armed groups” used it to spread out and carry out attacks that resulted in high casualties.
At least 63 people have been killed across Syria today, including 42 in Damascus and its suburbs, according to the Local Coordination Committees in Syria.
Makdissi said Syria asked Ban to send envoys to the countries that “finance, train, arms and give refuge to the armed groups,” including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to use their influence with the rebels to commit them to a cease-fire.
Turkey denies providing weapons or training Syrian rebels, allegations that sparked concern over alleged meddling by Turkey in Syrian affairs.
Tim Ash, head of emerging market research at Standard Bank Group Ltd., wrote in e-mailed comments today that he does not expect border tensions to “end up in a full-scale Turko-Syrian war.”
“I can see a more aggressive Turkish response, relatively small-scale, targeted, cross border incursions to take out specific threats,” Ash said. Border tensions were emerging as a significant domestic political issue, which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government will want to show it is able to deal with “decisively.”
After the June incident when Syria shot down a Turkish warplane it said was in its airspace, Turkey warned Assad’s units they faced attack if they came too close to the border.
“There is no public support for a war with Syria and Turkey is unwilling to enter a quagmire in Syria,” Ali Tekin, an assistant professor at the international relations department of Bilkent University, said by telephone today. “The government is aware that the political and economic cost of such an adventure would be heavy.”
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which called the attack on Akcakale “a flagrant breach of international law,” yesterday praised Turkey’s restraint and assured the Turkish government of the alliance’s military support if it’s attacked.
Schools in Akcakale were opened today after almost three weeks of interruption due to the cross-border shelling from Syria, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported, citing education officials. About 30,000 students were affected by the school closures, Anatolia said.
Hundreds of Syrian refugees flee to Turkey daily as Syrian rebels engage in fierce clashes with Syrian troops across the border. Sporadic gunfire from clashes between the rebels and Syrian forces could be heard from some areas along the Turkish border today, Anatolia reported. More than 96,000 Syrian refugees are in the country, Turkey’s disaster management authority said on Oct. 5.