Threat of regional war as Turkish
A rebel group claimed responsibility for the initial shelling over the
Turkey’s border which has provided the pretext for Turkish retaliation
by Christine Orr
Tensions between Turkey and Syria escalated this week due to continued shelling on both sides of the Syrian and Turkish borders. Turkey has claimed it is ‘retaliating’ and has taken steps to increase its military presence along the border as tension between the two nations mount.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told MPs from his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) that, “It has become inevitable for our armed forces to retaliate in kind … as the Syrian administration maintains its aggressive position.”
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On Tuesday, Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen backed Turkey’s right to defend itself and stated that Nato would be willing to assist Turkey to this end.
He said ahead of a meeting of Nato defence ministers in Brussels, “I would add to that that obviously Turkey can rely on NATO solidarity, we have all necessary plans in place to protect and defend Turkey if necessary,”
Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, spoke out against such action. He opposes a Nato intervention, particularly on the grounds of defending neighbouring Turkey.
Referring to claims that Syria was provoking Turkey by firing shells over the border, Al-Maliki said, “Even if something like that happened, these stories are blown out of proportion, there is no need to use it as a pretext for a war and to get a whole organization, such as Nato, involved in Turkey’s defence. There is no threat to Turkey.”
Up until now Iraq has been neutral to the crisis. These remarks come after a $4.2bn arms deal with Russia – a key ally of Syria – was agreed this week.
Al-Maliki also stressed this week that no weapons were being smuggled through Iraq from Iran to Syria.
“We have placed the army on our border to prevent the delivery of weapons to Syria,” Maliki added, calling on countries supplying arms to Syria to “look for positive solutions” instead.
Last week, Iraq stopped and searched a Syria-bound Iranian cargo plane for weapons but allowed it to continue after no prohibited items were found.
Ban Ki-Moon, secretary of the UN, has called on a unilateral ceasefire as he is concerned that the conflict will spread across the region.
Addressing a joint news conference with French President Francois Hollande, Ban said, “I have conveyed to the Syrian government (a) strong message that they should immediately declare a unilateral ceasefire,”
However, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has rejected this call demanding that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) stop the violence first. The FSA faced tanks and troops outside and around Aleppo throughout the week.
“We told Ban ki-Moon to send emissaries to the countries which have influence on the armed groups, so that they put an end to the violence,” foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Maqdisi said.
Turkey’s relationship with Russia was also damaged this week when a passenger aircraft
travelling from Moscow to Syria was forced to ground in Turkey. Turkey claims they seized Russian-made munitions and military equipment destined for Syria’s defence ministry.
Erdogan said “The Russian arms exporting agency was the sender and the receiver was the Syrian Defence Ministry. The material has been confiscated and is being examined. Carrying such materials through our airspace is against international rules.”
Damascus has hit back claiming that there was only legitimate cargo aboard and that Turkey has committed “air piracy”.
“This hostile and deplorable Turkish act is an additional indication of the hostile policy of Erdogan’s government,” Syria’s foreign ministry said in a statement, accusing Ankara of “harbouring terrorists” and allowing them to infiltrate Syria.
Russia denied Turkey’s claims and stated that it does not export weapons for internal purposes and that the way the plane was landed put Russian lives in danger.
Turkey is justifying its action under Article 35 of the Convention on Civil International Aviation, which states: “No munitions of war or implements of war may be carried in or above the territory of a State in aircraft engaged in international navigation, except by permission of such State.”
US Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, declared this week that the Syrian opposition should be armed to be able to push out Assad. He said that this would be done with groups that identify with “American values”.
He said, “It is essential that we develop influence with those forces in Syria that will one day lead a country that sits at the heart of the Middle East.”
It has been stressed that Mr Romney did not call for America to arm the FSA.
A US covert team has been in Jordan to intervene in the event of Syria losing control of its chemical weapons. The one hundred and fifty member team of planners and military specialists were deployed originally to assist with Jordan’s Syrian refugees.
They are based on the Syrian southern border in order to launch an intervention if the US decides to. Both countries declined to comment.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than thirty-two thousand people including babies, children and women have died since the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad erupted in March 2011.
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