Trouble has been brewing for some time between Turkey and its erstwhile ally Syria. Matters reached crisis point last week after several mortars hit Turkish territory, prompting Turkey to fire back leading to cross-border shelling:
[October 6, 2012] Turkish artillery fired shells into Syria for the fourth day in a row on Saturday, retaliating for mortars that landed on Turkish soil. Rebels clashed with Syrian government troops near the border amid renewed fears that the Syrian crisis could spiral into a regional conflict.
The latest shelling comes a day after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cautioned Damascus not to test Turkey’s “limits and determination” and insisted that his country “was not bluffing” with its warnings.
The crisis began on Wednesday, when a Syrian shell killed five civilians in a Turkish border town and triggered unprecedented artillery strikes by Turkey, coupled with warnings that Turkey would no longer tolerate such acts. Ankara has deployed more troops to its southern border with Syria, and has responded to each shell that has struck Turkish soil with its own artillery barrage.
On Saturday, two mortar shells landed in rural areas near the Turkish village of Guvecci, prompting Turkish return fire, Turkey’s media reported. The first exchange happened shortly after intense fighting broke out across the border in Syria’s Idlib province between Syrian rebels and regime forces, the private Dogan news agency reported. There were no reported casualties.
A Turkish army unit based near Guvecci promptly responded, firing four 81mm mortars in the first instance and two shells in the second, it said.
The governor’s office indicated that the Syrian mortar had landed in Turkey accidentally, saying it was believed “to be have been fired by the forces of the Syrian Arab Republic at Syrian rebel groups on the Syrian side of the border.”
Relations between Turkey and Syria, once strong allies, deteriorated sharply after the uprising against Assad began in March last year. Turkey became one of the harshest critics of Assad’s crackdown while Syria accused Ankara of aiding rebels.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Turkey’s state television TRT that “from now on whenever there is an attack on Turkey, it will be silenced.”
Earlier on Saturday, reports surfaced in the Turkish media that the Syrian government had agreed to maintain a 10-kilometer (6-mile) buffer zone along the Turkish border.
Syrian state media likened the current crisis to the war with Israel. Damascus denies it is facing a popular uprising, instead blaming the violence on a foreign conspiracy linked to its support for anti-Israeli groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
“There are few differences between the current aggression and the circumstances during the October War, as Syria is facing an enemy armed with Western and Israeli weapons aiming at destroying the Syrian state and punishing its people for foiling all the hegemonic and hostile schemes planned for the region,” the official news agency SANA commented.
Matters took a turn for the worse last Wednesday when Turkey intercepted and grounded a Syrian passenger plane en route from Moscow to Damascus, seizing its cargo:
Turkey scrambled fighters and briefly detained a Syrian passenger plane on Wednesday, suspecting it of carrying military equipment from Moscow, while Turkey’s military chief warned of a more forceful response if shelling continued to spill over the border.
Military jets escorted the Damascus-bound Airbus A-320, carrying around 30 passengers, into the airport in Ankara hours after Turkey’s chief of staff said his troops would respond with greater force if bombardments from Syria kept hitting Turkish territory, Turkish state-run television said.
“We are determined to control weapons transfers to a regime that carries out such brutal massacres against civilians. It is unacceptable that such a transfer is made using our airspace,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.
“Today we received information this plane was carrying cargo of a nature that could not possibly be in compliance with the rules of civil aviation,” he said in Athens during an official visit, in comments broadcast live on Turkish television.
Syria denounced the seizure of the plane, calling it “air piracy”, while Russia demanded an explanation.
Today (Saturday), in apparent retaliation, Syria banned Turkish overflights of its airspace:
Syria has decided to ban Turkish Airlines flights from Syrian airspace, Syria’s state-run news agency SANA reported Saturday.
SANA sent the announcement to reporters in a text message late Saturday, but did not elaborate.
The decision came three days after Turkey intercepted a Syrian passenger plane en route from Moscow to Damascus and seized what it said was military equipment on board.
I admit I was amused to read that earlier today Turkey slammed the UN Security Council for its failure to act on the Syrian crisis:
Turkey’s prime minister sharply criticized the UN Security Council on Saturday for its failure to agree on decisive steps to end the 19-month civil war in Syria.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan told an international conference in Istanbul that the world was witnessing a humanitarian tragedy in Syria.
“If we wait for one or two of the permanent members … then the future of Syria will be in danger,” said Erdogan, according to an official translator.
Russia and China – two of the five permanent members of the Security Council – have vetoed resolutions that sought to put concerted pressure on Damascus to end the conflict and agree to a political transition.
Erdogan called for a reform of the Security Council, which he called an “unequal, unfair system” that didn’t represent the will of most countries.
It’s hard to repress a feeling of schadenfreude when reading of Turkey’s troubles with Syria and its anger at the UN, even if its actions are correct. It all parallels Israel’s conflicts with its neighbours and the unfair treatment it receives in the UN, the singular difference being that Israel is not actively bashing Turkey, whereas Turkey never misses an opportunity to hit out at Israel.
Turkey also has a certain amount of chutzpah (even if they are correct) in criticising the UN when it demanded – and got – a condemnation of the mortar attacks on its territory, whereas Israel suffered 55 rockets landing in the south on Simchat Torah with not a mention in the UN.
As the Israeli blogger Treppenwitz so concisely puts it: It’s not what you do, it’s who you do it to:
Syria has slaughtered tens of thousands of its own citizens in the street and all the world seems willing to do is issue ‘strongly worded letters’. But let Israel try to keep the terrorists in Gaza from receiving advanced weapons (while allowing the uninterrupted flow of humanitarian aid), and suddenly the moonbats are lining up to take part in flotillas to help the poor Gazans break the evil Israeli blockade.
In a 24 hour period of the Simchat Torah holiday this week, the Palestinians fired 55 rockets and mortars into Israel! The only mention I saw was the New York Times negative article about Israel’s retaliatory strike.
But let Syria fire four or five mortars into Turkey (A NATO member), and suddenly governments all over the west are lining up to offer condemnations and express their support of any and all retaliation by Turkey.
Turkey really doesn’t have that much to complain about. Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, has demanded a UN condemnation of the Palestinian rocket-fire onto the south of Israel.
Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the president of the Security Council Thursday, over their failure to condemn Gaza’s rocket fire on Israel.
Prosor pointed out that while the UN was quick to condemn similar fire by Syria, it was left oblivious to the rocket salvo that hit Israel over the weekend.
“While the people of Southern Israel remain semi-permanent residents of bomb shelters, the permanent and semi-permanent members of the Security Council remain unable to speak with one voice against these attacks,” Prosor wrote.
“Last week, the Security Council showcased unprecedented efficiency when rockets were fired in the direction of another Middle East country – and rightly so. This is the Security Council’s responsibility.”
Meanwhile, he continued, “The Council has slept through more than 12,000 rocket attacks against Israelis over the past decade. We applaud the Security Council’s condemnation last week – and expect the Council to act with the same speed and conviction to condemn the rocket fire targeting one million Israeli civilians.
“I ask you – as the President of the Security Council – to condemn these rocket attacks in the same manner as last week’s statement, without another day of delay,” Prosor wrote.
So far we haven’t heard a word. Perhaps we should change our name to Turkey.