‘If Syria keeps firing at us, we will respond with more force.’
This was the message delivered to Damascus by Turkish army chief General Necdet Özel during a tour of the village Akçakale, on the border with Syria.
He went to meet the families of five civilians killed by fire coming from Syria last week. He also reviewed troop strength and deployment.
Syrian mortar shelling intended for rebels has at least six times strayed into the territory of Hatay in southeastern Turkey. Turkish artillery has responded.
The killing of townspeople here is the most serious matter for Ankara since Syrian ground-to-air fire downed a Turkish fighter jet in June.
The day after the Akçakale deaths, the Turkish government won parliamentary support to conduct military operations in Syria if it deems them necessary.
Without calling for war, Turkish President Abdullah Gul was not ruling out firm action.
He said: “The worst-case scenario that we’ve all been dreading is unfolding in Syria right now. The Syrian people are suffering greatly, and as you’ve seen, once in a while, we are also affected. Some of our citizens have died.”
NATO could get involved if Turkey invoked the mutual defence clause in which an attack on one NATO country is taken as an attack on all its members. But the organisation’s head has revealed little.
Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: “We have taken the steps necessary to make sure that we have all plans in place to protect and defend Turkey, but I think you understand very well why we can not go into details when it comes to such plans.”
Turkey has been in NATO since 1952. It is also a former ally of Syria. But the violent repression of opposition by Damascus, which led to the present civil war in Syria, lost President Bashir Al Assad Ankara’s friendship.