Syria to keep military 6 miles from Turkey

Oct. 5, 2012 at 3:30 PM
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ANKARA, Turkey, Oct. 5 (UPI) -- Syria Friday ordered its military to keep aircraft at least 6.2 miles away from the Turkish border and to avoid artillery fire near the border.

The order came a day after the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country would defend itself against what he called deliberate attacks by Syria, Today's Zaman reported.

"We have no intention of starting a war with Syria," Erdogan told reporters in Ankara after Turkey's Parliament gave him a one-year mandate to send troops into foreign countries "as a deterrent" a day after a Syrian-regime shell fell in the Turkish border town of Akcakale, killing a mother, her three daughters and a female relative.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the U.S. government believes Turkey was justified in its response.

"The United States condemns the violence and the aggressive actions of the Syrians. We certainly express, the United States government certainly expresses our sympathy to the Turkish people for the lives that were lost," Earnest said Friday during a news briefing.

Earnest said the United States would stand "shoulder to shoulder" with Turkey in taking action to ensure its sovereignty isn't violated by aggressive actions in Syria.

Also Friday, Turkey and Iran expressed a commitment to boosting ties, despite tensions along the Turkish-Syrian border, Today's Zaman said.

"We want Turkish-Iranian relations to progress so as to contribute to the peace and well-being of the peoples of the two countries and the region," Turkish President Abdullah Gul told visiting Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi.

Syrian rebel fighters said Turkey's attacks Thursday killed 14 Syrian regime soldiers and destroyed several armored vehicles, a claim that couldn't be independently verified. Syrian officials said two officers were wounded.

Erdogan said Syria's shelling had to be deliberate, pointing to another mortar bomb that fell in southeast Turkey's 53,000-population Altinozu district near the Syrian border Thursday.

"One time is an accident ... but how can this be an accident, when it happens eight times?" Erdogan said.

"The Turkish republic is a state capable of defending its citizens and borders. No country should dare test our determination on this," he warned.

Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said while the resolution opened the way for Turkey's unilateral action inside Syria without the involvement of Turkey's Western or Arab allies, Ankara's "main priority" was to "act together with the international community."

"That is why we called on NATO and the United Nations to take up the issue," he said.

His comments and those of Erdogan came as Turkey's military positioned tanks, armored personnel carriers and anti-aircraft missiles on the southern boundary of Akcakale, Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman reported. Their guns pointed south toward the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, about 9 miles from Turkey's border, the newspaper said.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: "From our perspective, the response that Turkey made was appropriate. The intent in sending a very strong message was to deter future aggression."

In New York Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Jaafari told reporters he told the Security Council the regime of President Bashar Assad was still investigating who fired the shells into Turkey. He said Damascus would not apologize until it determined who was responsible.

"Our forces practiced self-restraint and did not respond to this Turkish artillery shelling," he said, reading from a letter Syria sent to the council.

He said the letter expressed Syria's condolences to the families of the Turkish "martyrs" and to "the friendly and brotherly people of Turkey."

The Syrian regime "is keenly interested in maintaining good neighborly relations with Turkey," Jaafari said.

The Security Council, after negotiating Russia's agreement, "condemned in the strongest terms the [Akcakale] shelling by the Syrian armed forces" and demanded Syria immediately stop "such violations of international law" and not repeat them.

The 15-member council "underscored that this incident highlighted the grave impact the crisis in Syria has on the security of its neighbors and on regional peace and stability" and "called on the Syrian government to fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors."

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