TURKISH ARTILLERY TARGETS SYRIA
By Christopher Torchia
October 3, 2012
ISTANBUL -- Turkish artillery fired on Syrian targets after deadly shelling from Syria hit a Turkish border town on Wednesday, sharply raising tensions on a volatile border that has been crossed by tens of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing violence in their country.
In a terse statement, the office of Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, condemned shelling that hit the Turkish town of Akcakale, killing five local residents and wounding a dozen others. The shelling appeared to come from Syrian government forces who were fighting Syrian rebels backed by Turkey, which has called for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Turkey's Anadolu agency said the dead included a woman, her three children, and her friend.
"Our armed forces at the border region responded to this atrocious attack with artillery fire on points in Syria that were detected with radar, in line with the rules of engagement," the Turkish statement said.
"Turkey, acting within the rules of engagement and international laws, will never leave unreciprocated such provocations by the Syrian regime against our national security," it said.
Turkey's NTV television said Turkish radar pinpointed the positions from where the shells were fired on Akcakale, and that those positions were hit.
"Turkey is a sovereign country. There was an attack on its territory. There must certainly be a response in international law. . . . I hope this is Syria's last craziness. Syria will be called into account," said Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc.
In Belgium, NATO's National Atlantic Council, which is composed of the national ambassadors, held an emergency meeting in Brussels on Wednesday night at Turkey's request to discuss the cross-border incident. The meeting ended with a statement strongly condemning the attack and saying: "the alliance continues to stand by Turkey and demands the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an ally." It also urged "the Syrian regime to put an end to flagrant violations of international law."
NATO also held an emergency meeting when a Turkish jet was shot down by Syria in June.
Turkey, a NATO ally, is anxious to avoid going into Syria on its own. It has been pushing for international intervention in the form of a safe zone, which would likely entail foreign security forces on the ground and a partial no-fly zone. However, the allies fear military intervention in Syria could ignite a wider conflict, and few observers expect robust action from the United States, which Turkey views as vital to any operation in Syria, ahead of the presidential election in November.
Turkey hosts more than 90,000 Syrian refugees in camps along its border, and also hosts Syrian opposition groups. There is concern in Turkey that the Syrian chaos could have a destabilizing effect on Turkey's own communities; some observers have attributed a sharp rise in violence by Kurdish rebels in Turkey to militant efforts to take advantage of the regional uncertainty.
--Don Melvin in Brussels contributed.
NATO DEMANDS HALT TO SYRIA AGGRESSION AGAINST TURKEY
By Adrian Croft
October 3, 2012
BRUSSELS -- NATO demanded an immediate halt to "aggressive acts" against alliance member Turkey on Wednesday after a mortar strike launched from Syria killed five Turkish civilians.
Ambassadors from the alliance's 28 member nations held an emergency late-night meeting at NATO headquarters, at Turkey's request, to discuss the strike.
The shelling "constitutes a cause of greatest concern for, and is strongly condemned by, all allies," the NATO ambassadors said in a statement.
"The alliance continues to stand by Turkey and demands the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an ally, and urges the Syrian regime to put an end to flagrant violations of international law," the statement added.
It said recent aggressive acts by Syria were a "clear and present danger to the security of one of (NATO's) allies."
It was a rare meeting under Article 4 of the NATO charter which provides for consultations when one member feels its territorial integrity, political independence, or security is under threat.
The meeting ended after about 40 minutes with the strong statement of alliance solidarity with Turkey.
Turkey asked for the meeting after a mortar bomb fired from Syria landed in a residential district of the southeastern Turkish town of Akcakale, killing a woman and four children from the same family and wounding at least eight other people.
In the most serious cross-border escalation of the 18-month uprising in Syria, Turkey's armed forces responded by hitting targets inside Syria.
Turkey's NATO ambassador Haydar Berk briefed the meeting on a number of recent cross-border shelling incidents and also told them of Turkey's response, which was aimed at military targets in Syria, a NATO diplomat said.
Other ambassadors present condemned the mortar strike from Syria and expressed full solidarity with Turkey, the diplomat said. Most praised Turkey's restraint, the diplomat said.
A Turkish official in Brussels said Turkey was extremely pleased with the solidarity displayed by NATO allies.
No further NATO meetings on the issue are planned but as it is an Article 4 matter it remains on the alliance's agenda.
Nobody present at the meeting mentioned Article 5, NATO's key collective defense principle, which says that an attack against one member state is considered an attack against all, the diplomat 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.
NATO defense ministers are due to meet in Brussels next week. Syria is not on the agenda but diplomats said ministers could choose to raise any subject they wished.
NATO ambassadors held a similar meeting under Article 4, at Turkey's request, in June after Syria shot down a Turkish military plane.
That meeting was only the second time in NATO's 63-year history that members had convened under Article 4.
Wednesday's statement was much tougher than the one issued after the June meeting.
Ambassadors met earlier on Wednesday for a regular meeting, but many of them would have left NATO headquarters for the day and had to be recalled for the late-night meeting.
TURKEY STRIKES BACK AFTER SYRIAN SHELLING KILLS 5 CIVILIANS
By Tim Arango and Anne Barnard
New York Times
October 3, 2012
ISTANBUL -- Turkey said Wednesday that it shelled targets within Syria as retaliation for a mortar that landed across the Turkish border and killed five civilians, a move that increases the risk of escalating the bloody civil war into a regional conflict and ratchets up pressure for further international involvement.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, of which Turkey is a member and whose charter calls in some cases for collective action when one of its members is targeted militarily, called an emergency meeting on Wednesday evening to discuss the crisis, as Turkey’s civilian and military leaders said Parliament would consider a motion on Thursday to permit further military action within Syria.
“This atrocious attack was immediately responded to adequately by our armed forces in the border region, in accordance with rules of engagement,” said a statement from the office of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, carried by the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency. “Targets were shelled in locations identified by radar.”
And while suicide bombers killed dozens on Wednesday as violence surged in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, it was the cross-border strike that raised the stakes in a civil war that has left tens of thousands dead and forced more than a million people from their homes. The war has defied exhaustive diplomatic efforts by the global community. The events may increase pressure for the West to take military action, something Turkey has supported. The United States and its allies have balked at engaging in another armed conflict in the Muslim world that would be far riskier than NATO’s intervention in Libya, which helped oust Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
“The conflict in Syria is spilling well over its borders,” said Andrew Tabler, a Syria analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “I don’t see how the Obama administration continues policy as usual after this.”
But in the fog of war that has settled over Syria, where allegiances and motives are uncertain and a bloody stalemate has taken hold, some observers said they could not help wondering if the episode had been orchestrated by one side or another. The rebels have implored NATO to provide a no-fly zone or havens, and President Bashar al-Assad may feel he can rally his supporters against foreign invasion, experts said. “Various parties are trying to pull Turkey into the conflict,” Atilla Sandikli, the director of the Wise Men Center for Strategic Studies in Ankara, Turkey, said on the Turkish channel NTV.
In Washington, George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, called the Syrian attack on Turkish territory “yet another example of the depraved behavior of the Syrian regime, and why it must go.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she was “outraged” by the mortar attack in Turkey.
After its meeting, NATO issued a statement saying the alliance continued “to stand by Turkey and demands the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an ally, and urges the Syrian regime to put an end to flagrant violations of international law.”
Turkey’s military strike within Syria, which represented a further deterioration of relations between the onetime allies, came after several huge explosions struck a government-held district of Aleppo. The blast killed dozens of people and filled the streets with rubble in a square near a public park, according to video, photographs, and reports from the Syrian government and its opponents.
At least two explosions, which both sides said appeared to be car bombs, struck Saadallah al-Jabiri Square near an officers’ club and two government-owned hotels that residents said had housed pro-government militiamen who had essentially taken over the square. Another explosion struck near the chamber of commerce in nearby Bab Jenine, both sides reported.
Jabhet al-Nusra, an insurgent group affiliated with Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility late on Wednesday for the suicide bombings, which caused anguish for government supporters and opponents alike. The scale of Wednesday’s bombings seemed to deepen Aleppo’s sense of alarm and disgust, bringing expressions of horror and bewilderment from people on either side of the conflict.
“Oh, my God, the destruction is huge,” an accountant who works nearby, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Rami, said on his cellphone as he tried without success to approach the square, which he said was barricaded by security forces. Back in his office, listening to gunfire still echoing through the area, he wrote on Facebook: “My soul has died and my body is waiting for its turn.”
One Syrian activist, who uses the pseudonym Anonymous Syria, wrote on Twitter: “Whoever is behind those explosions is a terrorist if civilians were killed. Whether it is the regime, Al-Nusra brigade or the Free Syrian Army.”
In the square, men simply shouted obscenities and cursed “the terrorists’ fathers.” Their voices could be heard in the background as another man videotaped the bomb scene for a pro-government YouTube channel, panning over the corpses of two men in crisp camouflage uniforms who he said were would-be suicide bombers killed by security forces.
Before the retaliatory strike by Turkey, the government said in a statement that its foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, had consulted Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations and Arab League joint special envoy to Syria, as well as Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations. The prime minister’s statement said the strike was within the rules of engagement established after the Syrian military shot down a Turkish warplane in June, killing two pilots in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea. Syria had claimed the plane was flying over its own territory.
“This last incident is pretty much the final straw,” said Bulent Arinc, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, as quoted by the Anatolian News Agency. “There has been an attack on our land and our citizens lost their lives, which surely has adequate response in international law.”
The Syrian government urged restraint and offered condolences to the victims in Turkey. By announcing that an investigation was under way, it suggested that it never intended to strike within Turkey.
Syria’s minister of information, Omran al-Zo’aby, suggested on state television that Syria was defending against a regional threat that could affect Turkey and Syria.
“The Syrian-Turkish border is a long one and is being used for smuggling weapons and terrorists,” he said, adding that in response to border episodes, neighboring countries should act “wisely and rationally and responsibly, especially in cases of the presence of armed terrorist groups who have their different agendas that are not targeting the Syrian national security but the regional security.”
It was unclear if the mortar that struck Turkey was fired by government forces or by rebels fighting to oust the government of Mr. Assad, but Turkey believed it came from a government position, Turkish analysts said. The government said it used radar to select the target for its strikes, believed to be Syrian military outposts.
The shell that set off the outrage struck a building in Akcakale, one of the largest cities along Turkey’s 550-mile border with Syria, killing a woman, her three children, and a relative. Officials said that eight other people were wounded, and that two were in critical condition. The town had been hit before amid the clashes between rebels and government forces, but no one on the Turkish side had been killed before. Stray mortars have also landed across other borders, including Lebanon and Iraq.
The tit-for-tat bombings signaled the collapse of the relationship between Syria and Turkey, which had blossomed before the Arab revolutions with deepening commercial and political ties between the two countries. When protests broke out last year in Syria, Turkey first called for reform, but as the government turned its guns on its own people, Turkey switched allegiance to the rebels.
But Turkey has paid a price, including a public outcry against its Syria policy, which has led to economic hardships in the south and a strain on government resources as officials contend with the refugee crisis.
--Tim Arango reported from Istanbul, and Anne Barnard from Beirut, Lebanon. Reporting was contributed by Hala Droubi, Hania Mourtada and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Sebnem Arsu from Istanbul, and Thom Shanker from Washington.
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