- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2012

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm Thursday over the growing tension on the Turkish-Syrian border after Turkey’s Parliament authorized military operations against Syria.

The Parliament’s action came after Turkey fired on Syrian targets Wednesday in retaliation for a Syrian-launched mortar that fell on a Turkish village and killed five civilians.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “has repeatedly made clear his concern about the spillover of the Syrian crisis into neighboring countries, as occurred yesterday with Turkey,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

“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,” Mr. Nesirky added.

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.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said Thursday that Syria has admitted it is responsible for the shelling and apologized for the deaths, adding that the Syrian regime has reassured the U.N. that “such an incident will not occur again.”

“The bill is not for war,” Mr. Atalay said of parliament’s action, adding that it gives Turkey the right to respond to any future attacks by Syria.

The Parliament’s authorization allows only unilateral action by Turkey’s armed forces, without drawing its Western or Arab allies into the conflict.

Wednesday’s shelling was not Syria’s first military action in its 18-month civil war to involve its neighbor Turkey: In June, Syrian forces shot down a Turkish military jet, killing two pilots. Turkey responded by reinforcing its border with anti-aircraft missile and vowing to attack Syrian forces approaching its airspace.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been outspoken in criticizing Syrian President Bashar Assad and calling on the embattled dictator to step down.

Although there are deep nationalist strains in Turkish politics, there is no appetite there for a war with Syria.

The vote in Turkey’s parliament gives the government political cover, but it was not a mandate for war. The lack of enthusiasm was evident in the vote numbers: Several dozen members of the ruling Justice and Development party and the smaller Nationalist Movement party either did not show up or abstained.

In addition, Turkey has had big demonstrations demanding that the government not go to war with Syria.

Already battling Kurdish rebels near the border with Iraq, Turkey’s government is wary about being drawn alone into Syria’s conflict and cautious about how its actions are viewed in the Arab world, well aware of lingering distrust and animosity in region engendered during the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

Meanwhile, representatives of NATO — the military alliance of which Turkey is a membr — were meeting to discuss the Turkish-Syrian situation. Under NATO’s Washington Treaty, an attack against one member is considered an attack against all members, thus allowing international intervention.

However, NATO also is wary of being drawn into the Syrian conflict after having played a key role last year in Libya’s revolution.

Shaun Waterman contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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