EU urges Turkey to cool down on Syria

Recep Tayyip Erdo?an {Reuters]

Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, called on Turkey for restraint after its artillery slammed military targets in Syria in retaliation for a mortar attack that killed five people in the border town of Akçakale.

In a statement on Thursday (4 October), Ashton said she strongly condemns the shelling of Akçakale by Syrian forces.

“Yesterday’s incident illustrates clearly the tragic spill-over effects of the Syrian crisis in neighbouring countries," she said.

"I once again urge the Syrian authorities to put an immediate end to the violence and fully respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all neighbouring countries; such violations of Turkey's sovereignty cannot be tolerated. I call for restraint from all sides and will continue to follow the situation extremely closely," Ashton said.

Turkey stepped up retaliatory artillery strikes on a Syrian border town yesterday, reportedly killing several Syrian soldiers. Syria apologised for the mortar attack and said it would never happen again.

In Ankara, the Turkish parliament adopted motion clearing the military to use ground troops for cross-border operations into Syria. The opposition had objected to voting such a significant motion in a closed-door session.

With 449 deputies present in Parliament, 320 voted in favour of the motion and 129 against. Most of the no votes came from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

Records of the closed-door session, which lasted almost three and a half hours, will be available to the public after 10 years.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an said in Akçakale yesterday that his country was “not interested” in starting a war, but added that “nobody should test” the determination of his country to defend its citizens and his borders.

NATO backs defensive measures

The US State Department expressed support for the Turkish retaliation and said that it would serve as a deterrent to any new Syrian attacks on Turkey.

The statement came after NATO ambassadors held an emergency late-night meeting on Wednesday (3 October), at Turkey's request, to discuss Syrian mortar strike. The meeting ended after about 40 minutes with a strong statement of solidarity with Turkey.

Nobody present at the meeting mentioned Article 5, NATO's key collective defence principle, which says that an attack against one member state is considered an attack against all, a diplomat quoted by Reuters said.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said repeatedly that NATO has no intention of intervening in Syria, as it did in Libya last year, but stood ready to defend Turkey if necessary.

Russia conveyed the message that NATO should stay away from Syria.

"In our contacts with partners in NATO and in the region, we are calling on them not to seek pretexts for carrying out a military scenario or to introduce initiatives such as humanitarian corridors or buffer zones," Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said.

Moscow says Syrians themselves should decide their fate and says it will veto any UN Security Council resolution that could serve as a springboard for military intervention.

Rut Russia didn’t oppose a statement condemning the Syrian attack on Turkish soil. The 15-member council unanimously demanded that “such violations of international law stop immediately and are not repeated,” the Russian agency RIA Novosti reported.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was "alarmed by escalating tensions" between Syria and Turkey and warned that the risk of the 18-month-long Syrian conflict embroiling the entire region was growing, his spokesman said yesterday, as quoted by Reuters.

A peaceful pro-democracy movement which surfaced in Syria in March 2011 turned into a full-scale armed revolt after President Bashar al-Assad tried to crush it. It has now become a sectarian conflict that analysts say could destabilise neighboring states.

Some 20,000 people have been killed since.

The EU slapped economic sanctions on the Syrian regime soon after the uprising began. The sanctions against Syria were subsequently expanded to include an oil embargo, asset freeze and travel ban Syrian individuals associated with the violent repression.

The sanctions were then tightened several times but with no apparent effect on the repression.

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