Printed on: October 05, 2012

Turkey OKs military action in Syria


ASSOCIATED PRESS

AKCAKALE, Turkey -- Turkey sanctioned further military action against Syria on Thursday and bombarded targets across the border with artillery for a second day, raising the stakes in a conflict that increasingly is bleeding outside Syrian territory.

Although both sides moved to calm tensions, Turkey's parliament overwhelmingly approved a bill allowing the military to conduct cross-border operations into Syria -- making clear that Ankara has military options that do not involve its Western or Arab allies.

It was the most dramatic escalation in tensions between the countries, which were close allies before the revolt against Syrian President Bashar Assad began in March 2011. Over the past 18 months, however, Turkey has become one of the strongest critics of the Syrian regime, accusing it of savagery and massacres against the opposition.

The rebels who are trying to bring down Assad have used Turkey as their base, enraging a regime that accuses foreign countries of fomenting the unrest inside Syria.

The spark for the latest hostility was a mortar shell fired from Syria that slammed into a house in the Turkish border village of Akcakale on Wednesday, killing two women and three children.

The Turkish response to the Syrian shelling was swift -- it fired salvos of artillery rounds inside Syria, contacted its NATO allies and convened Parliament for a vote authorizing further cross-border military operations if necessary.

The bill opens the way for unilateral action by Turkey's armed forces inside Syria. Turkey has used a similar provision to repeatedly attack suspected Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq.

Syria's U.N. envoy said Thursday that his government was investigating the source of the cross-border shelling and did not want any escalation of violence with Turkey.

The border violence has added a dangerous new dimension to Syria's civil war, dragging Syria's neighbors deeper into a conflict that activists say has already killed 30,000 people.

The crackdown in Syria is acutely uncomfortable for Turkey, which does not want to be seen as a bystander to atrocities on its doorstep. At the same time, it is wary of scenarios such as a "buffer zone" inside Syria that could plunge its troops into battles with Syrian forces, drag in other countries and undo its image as a regional mediator.