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October 05, 2012

Turkey Warns Syria About Cross-Border Attacks

by Dorian Jones, VOA News

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is warning Syria against carrying out more attacks on Turkish soil.

In a fiery speech Friday in Istanbul, Erdogan said the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should not test Turkey's ability to strike back.

Erdogan's remarks came two days after a Syrian attack on the Turkish town of Akcakale killed five civilians, in one of the most serious cross-border incidents in Syria's 18-month uprising.

Following the attack, Turkish forces shelled Syrian targets and Turkey's parliament authorized military operations outside its borders if necessary.

Turkey dismayed

Erdogan's comments came as Turkish officials are expressing dismay that international outrage against the Syrian regime this week was not as strong as Turkey desired.

Ankara demanded that the United Nations Security Council take strong action.

But after hours of haggling between Turkey's Western allies and longtime Syria-backer Russia, U.N. Security Council condemnation of Syria was not as strong as Turkey was hoping for.

"The situation at the Turkish Syrian border is a quite a serious one and I think anybody who is in our shoes would prefer a stronger format or language," said Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal.

Also, at an emergency meeting of NATO ambassadors after the incident, NATO did not invoke Article Five of its charter, which would require all members to defend Turkey.

Turkey fears isolation

Analysts say after numerous rebuffs from its allies, Turkey realizes it is in danger of becoming isolated.

Sinan Ulgen head of the Istanbul-based research institute, Edam, said Ankara is now playing for the long run.

"If the conflict happens to escalate, then obviously Turkey would seek stronger support from our allies," Ulgen said.  "Therefore the consultations have been initiated are also to prepare the ground for future demand, because Turkey does not want to face the risk of unilateral action."

The Turkish parliament on Thursday passed a motion to allow its forces to intervene into Syria.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Unal said the parliamentary vote should be viewed as a deterrent to Damascus against any future violations of its territory.  But Unal warned it should not be seen as an empty gesture.

"This is giving the parliamentary license, as well as the legal basis, to the Turkish forces to the government to get prepared for every kind of eventuality," Unal said.  "I think we can't tolerate any kind of new escalations, new violations from the Syrian side, not because our citizens have been killed, but because it's been going on for a while and now enough is enough."

The Turkish army has bolstered its forces around the town hit by Wednesday's mortar strike by Syria.  According to local reports, Turkish warships fully loaded with munitions, labeled "war load," are being sent to the Mediterranean.

Amid the rising tensions, anti-war protests were held in cities across Turkey this week.  The largest was in Istanbul.

According to opinion polls, a large majority of Turks oppose military intervention into Syria, and that opposition is growing.

Analysts say in the face of strong opposition both at home and abroad, Ankara could now be adopting a more nuanced approach, but its tough stance towards Damascus remains unchanged.