Turkey gives OK to foreign troop deployment
Tensions rippled across Turkey Thursday, a day after Syrian shelling struck a Turkish border town and killed five people.
Turkey fired on Syrian government targets in retaliation for the artillery fire that struck the town of Akcakale.
In an emergency session Thursday, Turkey's parliament authorized a resolution giving the government permission to deploy its soldiers to foreign countries, a semiofficial news agency said.
"This should not be seen as a war resolution," said Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay. "It's for the purposes of protecting our interests and for possible developments. It is a preventative measure."
With the United Nations serving as an intermediary between Syria and Turkey, Atalay said Syria accepted responsibility for Wednesday's shelling and apologized.
"Syria accepts that they did it and says it will not happen again," Ataly said.
The developments underscore longstanding fears that the spillover from Syria's more than 18-month-long civil war could ignite a wider regional conflict.
The Turkish military began its retaliation Wednesday and continued it Thursday. It's the first time Turkey has fired into Syria during the crisis.
The forces shelled Syrian military sites Thursday in Tal Abyad, about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the Turkish border, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported.
Salih Aydogan, a local official in Akcakale, confirmed to CNN that Turkish artillery fired at Syria throughout Wednesday night and before dawn Thursday.
In a text message to CNN, he wrote, "Of course we heard the shooting. We couldn't sleep until the morning. The artillery unit is located at the zero point (directly at) the border in our district."
A senior Turkish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told CNN the artillery bombardment "continued for a while last night -- very early this morning,"
The official, who was not authorized to speak to the media, said the shelling was near the border town that was targeted Wednesday. The official could not provide details about Syrian casualties.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a number of Syrian security forces were killed.
"Turkey has retaliated to yesterday's incident without declaring war on Syria. Political, diplomatic initiatives will continue," Ibrahim Kalin, the foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Thursday in a posting on Twitter.
"Turkey has no interest in a war with Syria. But Turkey is capable of protecting its borders and will retaliate when necessary," Kalin added.
Erdogan sent the resolution to parliament, which said that circumstances have "reached a point that constitutes serious threat and risk to our national security. Therefore, it has become necessary to be able to respond to further risks and threats in a timely and immediate manner."
The resolution parliament considered called for authorizing the government to send Turkish forces "to foreign countries, with the administration determining the location, the scope, the numbers and the time of such deployment."
Any deployment would be over a one-year period, the resolution said.
The measure was approved by a vote of 320-129. Members of Erdogan's AKP party supported the resolution, while the main opposition party, the CHP, voted no.
The resolution points to a series of aggressive acts against Turkey by Syria beginning on September 20, the day fighting between rebels and Syrian government forces near the border wounded three Turkish civilians and temporarily forced the closure of area schools and farms.
Syria and Turkey once enjoyed a cozy bilateral relationship that saw visa-free travel and booming trade between the countries.
But relations ruptured as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government continued its bloody and unrelenting crackdown on anti-government demonstrators.
Tensions flared four months ago when the Syrian government announced it had shot down a Turkish military reconnaissance jet after it crossed into Syrian airspace. Two Turkish pilots were killed in the incident. The Turkish government continues to insist the jet was shot down by a surface-to-air missile after it left Syrian airspace -- claims that the Syrian government denies.
The deadly strikes into Turkey have been roundly condemned by a chorus of nations.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that the development demonstrates "how Syria's conflict is threatening not only the security of the Syrian people but increasingly causing harm to its neighbors." France called on the U.N. Security Council to condemn the Wednesday strike on Akcakale.
And Russia, a friend of the Syrian government, called for restraint.
"Through our ambassador to Syria, we have spoken to the Syrian authorities who assured us ... that what happened at the border with Turkey was a tragic accident, and that it will not happen again," said Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, according to state-run media. "We think it is of fundamental importance for Damascus to state that officially."
Turkey said Syrian forces conducted the shelling. The attack struck a chord across the nation.
Asli Aydintasbas, a columnist for the Turkish newspaper Milliyet, lobbied for a forceful Turkish reaction in her newspaper column Thursday.
"In my view, Turkey has no other option but to retaliate," she told CNN in a telephone interview.
"Syrians were testing our resolve persistently. This was an effort to signal to Turkey that it needs to stay out of the Syrian crisis. Not only the safety of our citizens, but also our prestige in the region was at stake. In this neighborhood, countries have to have deterrent capabilities in order to survive. Turkey has to respond in a fashion to show that it is not a country to be messed with."
Akcakale has been rocked by previous fighting just across the border in Syria. Last month, Turkish residents watched as Syrian shells crashed into Syrian territory, barely a stone's throw away from the Turkish border fence. The close artillery barrage forced Turkish authorities to temporarily shut schools in Akcakale and close off roads leading to the Syrian border.
Turkey has had a key role in calling for a transition of power in Syria, hosting international diplomats at ad hoc meetings of the Friends of Syria, a group that was formed after the U.N. Security Council failed to take action.
Last March, Turkey shuttered its embassy in Damascus and the Syrian government declared Turkey's ambassador, Omer Onhon, persona non grata.
Erdogan has repeatedly denounced al-Assad, publicly calling on him to step down after accusing him of massacring his own people. The Syrian government, meanwhile, has accused Turkey of arming and funding Syrian rebels.
CNN journalists have witnessed light weapons in the form of assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns coming from Turkey to Syrian rebels.
In addition, Turkey is currently hosting more than 93,000 Syrian refugees in camps. Turkish officials estimate an additional 40,000 to 50,000 unofficial refugees live in the country outside refugee camps.
On Wednesday, the North Atlantic Council, NATO's most senior political governing body, said it stands by Turkey, which is a member of the treaty organization. The alliance "demands the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an ally, and urges the Syrian regime to put an end to flagrant violations of international law," the council said after an emergency meeting. The Syrian government has a recent pattern of "aggressive attacks" at NATO's southeastern border, in Turkey, it said.
In other developments:
Battle for Damascus
Widespread fighting was reported Thursday across Syria, with at least 21 Republican Guards killed in an explosion in a Damascus suburb where government troops have been battling rebels, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The explosion occurred at a military housing unit in the Syrian capital city's suburb of Qudsaya, the rights group said.
Fierce clashes were also reported in Yarmouk Camp, home to the largest Palestinian community in Syria, the LCC said.
Yarmouk Camp has been the scene of on-again, off-again intense fighting in recent months, with government forces shelling rebels and firing on them from helicopters, according to opposition reports.
CNN is unable to independently confirm reports of casualties or violence because the Syrian government has severely restricted access by international journalists.
The Local Coordination Committees of Syria said Thursday's death toll across the country stood at 72, with 31 dead in Damascus and its suburbs and 26 of those killed in Aleppo. The Republican Guard deaths were not part of the group's count.
Russia: Terror tactics in Aleppo "immoral"
Russia denounced a wave of explosions that left dozens dead in the flashpoint city of Aleppo, Syria's largest city, as "immoral" and "inadmissible."
The comments by the Russian Foreign Ministry came as the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front claimed responsibility for Wednesday's bombings that killed at least 40 people and wounded 90 more. The group said the strikes at a popular square were carried out by suicide bombers who drove explosives-laden vehicles and by gunmen disguised as Syrian security forces.
The seesaw fight for Aleppo, once considered an al-Assad stronghold, has continued nearly unabated since July, though the number of casualties has steadily increased.
"Those behind the attacks and those who carried them out must be found and punished," the Foreign Ministry said in a post on its official Twitter account. "Supporting those who commit crimes like these is immoral and inadmissible."
Russia, along with China, has repeatedly blocked U.N. Security Council efforts to try to end the carnage. Russia's Foreign Ministry has said the conflict must be decided by the Syrian people.
While most of the Western members of the Security Council condemned the border attack, Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, had sharp words for the council's failure to condemn the attack in Aleppo.
He said he regrets the "Security Council once again failed to condemn terror acts in Syria."
Lavrov also said Damascus should promise publicly to prevent armed incidents on the border with Turkey.