'Worst case' unfolds in Syria
GUVECCI, Turkey — The Turkish military retaliated with artillery fire for a sixth consecutive day on Monday when a Syrian shell hit its territory, and Turkey's president warned that “the worst-case scenario we have all been dreading” is unfolding in Syria and along its borders.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul said the violence in Turkey's southern neighbor, where a revolt against President Bashar Assad has evolved into a civil war that threatens to draw in regional powers, could not go on indefinitely and Assad's fall was inevitable.
“The worst-case scenarios are taking place right now in Syria ... our government is in constant consultation with the Turkish military. Whatever is needed is being done immediately as you see, and it will continue to be done,” Gul said.
“There will be a change, a transition sooner or later ... it is a must for the international community to take effective action before Syria turns into a bigger wreck and further blood is shed, that is our main wish,” he told reporters in Ankara.
Turkey's armed forces have bolstered their presence along the 560-mile border with Syria in recent days and have been responding in kind to gunfire and shelling spilling across from the south, where Assad's forces have been battling rebels who control swathes of territory.
Turkey's chief of staff, Gen. Necdet Ozel, traveled to the southern city of Adana to inspect the region patrolled by Turkey's 2nd Army, which protects the border with Syria, the military said on its website.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the escalation of the conflict along the Turkey-Syria border, as well as the impact of the crisis on Lebanon, were “extremely dangerous.” “The situation in Syria has dramatically worsened. It is posing serious risks to the stability of Syria's neighbors and the entire region,” he said during a conference in Strasbourg, France.
Ban said U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi would be heading back to the region this week.
A military option — which would involve foreign powers that have expressed a deep reluctance to getting involved in the crisis — is still not on the table, analysts say, despite six consecutive days of Turkish retaliation against bombardment from inside Syria.
“Syria is aware that Turkey cannot go a step further,” said Ali Tekin, assistant professor of International Relations at Ankara's Bilkent University. “The Turkish people don't want a war, and there are no vital national interests at stake to warrant a war. Syria sees this.”
The exchanges with Turkey mark the most serious cross-border violence in Syria's revolt against Assad, which began in March last year with peaceful protests for reform and has evolved into a civil war with sectarian overtones.
“From now on, every attack on us will be responded to immediately. Every attack that targets our sovereignty, our security of life and property will find its response,” Turkish government spokesman Bulent Arinc said after a cabinet meeting.
Parliament last week authorized the deployment of Turkish troops beyond its borders, although government officials said the move was meant as a deterrent rather than a “war mandate.”
“Turkey will decide itself when the situation necessitates acts mentioned in the motion the parliament passed last week. Nobody should think war will follow a parliament approval ... but we are more sensitive about our independence and sovereignty than most countries,” Arinc said.
Turkey's Dogan news agency said some 25 warplanes had been sent to a military base in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the southeast, and reported military sources as saying this was in connection with Syria and cross-border anti-terror operations.
It said a large number of F-16 fighter planes landed at the base on Monday afternoon. Local sources confirmed there was heightened activity at the base but said this was related to operations against Kurdish militant bases in northern Iraq, not Syria.