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Turkey vows to protect its people after Syrian shelling

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ISTANBUL — Turkey's prime minister insisted Thursday that his country does not want to go to war with Syria, after the Turkish parliament authorized military action against Syria's regime and Turkish forces lobbed mortars into Syria for the second consecutive day.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey is determined to protect its borders and its citizens, five of whom were killed Wednesday in a Syrian mortar attack on a Turkish village. He noted that Syrian mortars hit Turkish areas seven other times during the 18-month-old civil war between Syrian rebels and President Bashar Assad's regime.

"We want peace and security and nothing else. We would never want to start a war," Mr. Erdogan said during a news conference in Akcakale, where five civilians were killed in Wednesday's mortar attack. "Turkey is a country which is capable of protecting its people and borders. No one should attempt to test our determination on the issue."

Parliament's action authorizes unilateral military operations against future Syrian provocations, without drawing Western or Arab allies into the conflict. Turkey is a member of NATO.

The authorization also covers strikes against Kurdish militants from the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party in northern Iraq.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said Thursday that Syria has admitted it is responsible for the shelling of Akcakale and apologized for the deaths, adding that the Assad regime has reassured the United Nations that "such an incident will not occur again."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm Thursday over the growing tension on the 500-mile Turkish-Syrian border.

"As the situation inside Syria deteriorates yet further — including the atrocious terrorist bombings in Aleppo this week, which killed dozens of people including civilians — the risks of regional conflict and the threat to international peace and security are also increasing," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the special representative of the U.N. and the Arab League on Syria, is in touch with Syrian and Turkish officials in an attempt to calm tensions, officials said.

No appetite for war

Mr. Erdogan has been outspoken in criticizing Mr. Assad. He has demanded that the embattled dictator step down and called for a united international response to the conflict.

In addition, Turkey has absorbed more than 90,000 Syrians who have fled the growing violence in their country.

Regional analysts downplayed concerns that a spillover of violence in Syria's civil war would pull Turkey into the fray.

"Turkey has no desire to get involved militarily in Syria," said David Hartwell, a Middle East analyst at IHS, a global intelligence firm in London.

The shelling Wednesday was the latest Syrian military action that involved Turkey. In June, Syrian forces shot down a Turkish military jet, killing two pilots. Turkey responded by reinforcing its border with anti-aircraft missiles and vowing to attack Syrian forces approaching its airspace.

"The Turkish were reasonably restrained allowing it to go," Mr. Hartwell said. "But with five civilians killed, it is a significant factor, and the Turkish parliament couldn't be seen not to respond."

In the vote by the 550-seat parliament authorizing military action, 320 lawmakers voted for the authorization and 129 against. Several dozen lawmakers abstained or were absent from the vote.

Muharrem Ince, a leading opposition member of the Republican People's party, made an impassioned speech against the authorization and lashed out at members of the ruling Justice and Development Party.

"Which [ruling party] member's child will go to war? Which parliamentarian's child will go to war? Which minister's child will go to war? I am asking you," Mr. Ince said before the vote. "Our society will send their children to war and they will not be able to know the reason why — and this isn't right."

Since the early 1980s, Turkey's conflict with Kurdish rebels has claimed about 40,000 lives.

Analysts said the Turkish government is wary about being drawn alone into Syria's conflict and cautious about how its actions are viewed in the Arab world. Animosity and distrust linger from the days of the Ottoman Empire, a dynasty that ruled the region for more than 600 years before it was replaced by the Turkish Republic and other states in 1922.

Support for Turkey

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Turkish response to the shelling was appropriate and not a surprise because Turkey made clear its intention to respond if its territory was violated.

Parliament's military authorization "was designed to strengthen the deterrent effect, so that these kinds of things don't happen again, and it was proportional," Mrs. Nuland told reporters.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council issued a nonbinding statement on the incident Thursday, overcoming division between Turkey's NATO allies on the one hand and Russia and China, which have vetoed anti-Syria resolutions in the past, on the other.

The unanimously adopted resolution condemned Syria's fatal shelling "in the strongest terms."

The statement offered condolences to the killed Turks' families and said the incident "highlighted the grave impact the crisis in Syria has on the security of its neighbors and on regional peace and stability."

A Western diplomat at the United Nations said on the condition of anonymity that Russia had sought to dilute the statement's language.

"We think it's very important that the [Security] Council speak clearly and swiftly to condemn this shelling," Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said before the resolution passed.

Pentagon press secretary George Little decried the Syrian regime and its shelling of the Turkish village. "We stand with our Turkish allies," he said.

Late Wednesday, NATO representatives met in Brussels for an emergency session to condemn the shelling and urged the Syrian regime to "put an end to flagrant violations of international law."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said NATO members agree on the need for solidarity but also on prudence in reacting to events on the Turkish-Syrian border.

NATO said Thursday that Adm. James G. Stavridis, commander of U.S. European Command and the alliance's supreme allied commander, "has been in close contact with senior officials from both NATO and the Pentagon since the outset of these events and is closely monitoring the situation."

Under NATO's Washington Treaty, an attack against one member is considered an attack against all members, allowing international military action.

After having played a key role last year in Libya's revolution, NATO is wary of being drawn into Syria's conflict, analysts said.

Regional specialists said the Turkish Parliament's military authorization aims to pressure the international community for a unified response on the Syrian crisis.

"Turkey is using this to tell NATO, 'Wake up, we are a member and we are being aggressed,'" said Nadim Shehadi, an associate fellow in the Middle East and North Africa program at the London-based think tank Chatham House. "They are doing it for internal reasons. It is too late for the government to back down on its Syria policy, but it needs allies; it can't be on its own."

On a visit to Pakistan on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed his government's concern about the escalation of tensions between Turkey and Syria.

Speaking at a news conference in Islamabad, Mr. Lavrov said Syria has assured Russia that such an incident as the shelling that killed the Turks will not happen again.

"It is of great concern for us," Mr. Lavrov said. "This situation is deteriorating with every coming day."

Louise Osborne reported from Berlin. Ashish Kumar Sen, Shaun Waterman and Kristina Wong, all from Washington, contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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