Turkey’s parliament authorized military action against Syria, including cross-border raids, on Thursday as Ankara continued shelling targets inside Syria for the second day. Turkey’s attack is in response to a mortar bomb from Syria that killed five Turkish citizens and wounded eight in the town of Akcakale. That town was also victim to spillover from the Syrian conflict last month, when fighting on the border resulted in Turkish citizens being wounded by shrapnel. This week’s incident also follows the downing of a Turkish fighter jet in June that killed two pilots.
Smoke rises from the explosion area after several Syrian shells crashed inside Akcakale, Turkey. (Photo: Rauf Maltas / Anatolian via AFP-Getty Images)
The deaths on Wednesday enraged many Turks who, according to reports from the Turkish media, view the strike as a deliberate act on Damascus’ part. Nevertheless, the Turkish leadership does not seem interested in starting a serious conflict. Following parliament’s approval of further action, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay stressed that Ankara was exercising its right to retaliation and that the authorization was not a “war memorandum.” Atalay also noted Ankara’s desire to act with international institutions. The previous day Turkey requested an emergency meeting with NATO, which resulted in a formal NATO statement supporting Turkey and urging Syria to “put an end to flagrant violations of international law.” Turkey also called upon the UN Security Council “to take necessary action…to ensure that Syria respects Turkey’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and security.”
The Turkish-Syrian relationship has deteriorated severely since the start of the Syrian uprising last year. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been particularly outspoken against Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, once an ally and personal friend, calling for Asad to resign and the creation of a foreign-protected safe-zone inside the country. Erdogan has also allowed the Syrian opposition to organize in Turkey, and last month the prime minister labeled Syria a “terrorist state.”
On Thursday, Turkish officials reported that Syria admitted responsibility for Wednesday’s attack, apologized for the deaths, and reassured the UN that “such an incident will not occur again.” Even still, with the continuous fighting in Syria and tens of thousands of refugees fleeing across the border to Turkey, there is reason to believe another flare-up along the Syria-Turkey border is on the horizon. The only questions that remains is, how severe will it be?