In the latest blow to the already strained ties between the two neighbors, Syria fired mortar shells into a residential district of the southeastern Turkish town of Akçakale on Wednesday, killing a woman and four children from the same family and wounding at least 13 people. In response, Turkey attacked targets inside Syria. The incident represents the most serious cross-border escalation of the 18-month uprising in Syria.
Following the incident, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu conducted phone calls with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, international Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the foreign ministers of many other countries to brief them about the incident.
NATO's National Atlantic Council, which is composed of the national ambassadors, held a rare late-night meeting in Brussels on Wednesday night at Turkey's request to discuss the cross-border incident. In the meeting, NATO demanded an immediate halt of “aggressive acts” against alliance member Turkey.
NATO ambassadors said in a statement that the attack constitutes a cause of great concern for, and is strongly condemned by, all allies.
“The alliance continues to stand by Turkey and demands the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an ally, and urges the Syrian regime to put an end to flagrant violations of international law,” said the statement.
Following the incident, Turkey asked the UN Security Council to take the “necessary action” to stop Syrian aggression and ensure that the Syrian regime respects Turkish territorial sovereignty.
Turkish UN Ambassador Ertuğrul Apakan said in a letter to Guatemalan Ambassador Gert Rosenthal, the president of the 15-nation Security Council, that this was an act of aggression by Syria against Turkey.
“It constitutes a flagrant violation of international law as well as a breach of international peace and security,” said the letter, which was obtained by Reuters.
Although UN diplomats said the 15-nation council was hoping to issue a non-binding statement that would condemn the mortar attack and demand an end to violations of Turkey's territorial sovereignty, they added it was unlikely that the council would do anything more than issue a statement for the time being.
The Security Council has been deadlocked on Syria's 18-month-long conflict for more than a year due to the vetoes of Russia and China.
Ban urged Turkey to keep all channels of communication open with Syria to avoid increased tensions between the neighbors.
“[Ban] calls on the Syrian government to respect the territorial integrity of its neighbors, as well as to end the violence against the Syrian people,” Ban's press office said in a statement. “Today's incidents, where firing from Syria struck a Turkish town, again demonstrated how Syria's conflict is threatening not only the security of the Syrian people but increasingly causing harm to its neighbors.”
Following the incident, the international community immediately declared its condemnation of the Syrian regime, vowing support for Turkey.
Russia made a surprising statement, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov calling for restraint, stating that Syria has told Russia that the mortar bomb attack on the Turkish border was accidental and would not be repeated, the RIA Novosti news agency said.
“Through our ambassador to Syria, we have spoken to the Syrian authorities who assured us that what happened at the border with Turkey was a tragic accident, and that it will not happen again,” RIA quoted Lavrov as saying during a visit to Islamabad.
“We think it is of fundamental importance for Damascus to state that officially,” he added.
Meanwhile, Clinton condemned the incident, and said Washington would discuss with Ankara what the next step should be.
“We are outraged that the Syrians have been shooting across the border. We are very regretful about the loss of life that has occurred on the Turkish side,” Clinton said in remarks during an appearance with Kazakhstan's visiting foreign minister.
“We are working with our Turkish friends. I will be speaking with the [Turkish] foreign minister later to discuss what the best way forward would be,” Clinton said, calling the spread of violence beyond Syria's borders “a very, very dangerous situation.”
The White House also strongly condemned Syria's deadly shelling across the border with Turkey, saying, “The US stands with its Turkish ally and is continuing to consult closely on the path forward.”
“All responsible nations must make clear that it is long past time for [Bashar al] Assad to step aside, declare a ceasefire and begin the long-overdue political transition process,” stated White House spokesman Tommy Vietor.
Another statement came from British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who strongly condemned Syria's attack and said that Turkey's military response was understandable. Hague underlined that escalation of the situation should be avoided.
“The Turkish response is understandable; an outrageous act has taken place. Turkish citizens have been killed inside Turkey by forces from another country. So we express our strong solidarity with Turkey, but we don't want to see a continuing escalation of this incident,” Hague said.
Hague also stated the Syrian government should make sure that there is no repetition whatever of any incident of this kind so that such tensions on border regions with Turkey or with other neighboring countries can be avoided.
“Wednesday's events are a stark reminder of the deteriorating situation in Syria, the dangers it presents to the wider region, and the need for an urgent resolution of the United Nations Security Council.”
France called on the UN Security Council to send a swift and firm message to Syria condemning the attack. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also said in a statement that Syria's attack was a serious threat to peace, urging that such acts be ended without delay.
Egypt also warned the Syrian regime on Thursday not to violate the borders of Turkey, with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamal Amr saying he sees numerous dangers for the region if the conflict were to spread.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also condemned the incident, calling for restraint from all sides.
“I strongly condemn shelling by Syrian forces of the Turkish border town,” she said in a statement. “I once again urge the Syrian authorities to put an immediate end to the violence and fully respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all neighboring countries.”
“I call for restraint from all sides and will continue to follow the situation extremely closely,” she said.