For months, Syrian forces have been chasing rebels into Lebanon and Turkey. On Tuesday, a Syrian military mortar barrage into Turkey killed a family of five in their home. On Wednesday, the Turkish parliament voted to authorize any military action their government chooses to pursue. On Wednesday and Thursday, the Turkish army shelled Syrian military positions in retaliation, killing several Syrian soldiers.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan gave a public speech on Friday in Istanbul, warning Syrian President Bashar al Assad that Turkey will not back down. He told the crowd, “We are not interested in war, but we’re not far from war either. This nation has come to where it is today having gone through intercontinental wars. Those who attempt to test Turkey’s deterrence, its decisiveness, its capacity, I say here they are making a fatal mistake.”
Turkey has been providing sanctuary for refugees from Syria for the past 18 months, currently sheltering over 23,000 that have registered with the United Nations. Many more have taken refuge with friends and relatives. The border region has also been a bolt hole for the rebels, especially from Idlib province. Turkey has been aggressive in demanding international intervention in the Syrian civil war, and has acted as a conduit for weapons and fighter to reach Syria.
Which unfortunately raises a question as to who actually lobbed those shells into Turkey. The rebels are desperate for assistance, and have openly asked for a no-fly zone like the ones imposed on Iraq under Clinton and Libya during their revolution. The Syrian air force has been bombarding the city of Homs for the past few days, shelling civilians with no actual rebel targets involved. A no-fly zone would put an end to the use of war planes and helicopters to rain death on the population.
Would the Syrian government want to provoke Turkey? Probably not. Turkey is a member of NATO and can call on its NATO partners for reinforcement. That is the last thing Syria would want. The rebels, on the other hand, want NATO involved.
It is possible that the Syrian army got stupid. There have been more than a few instances where it became clear that the civilian government may not be completely in control of the military.
At the United Nations, Russia said that they were told by Damascus that the mortar attack had been an accident, but Turkey said basically that once might be an accident, but eight times was deliberate, and there have been eight such shellings over the months. The one this week was the first to kill Turkish civilians and there were multiple shells that landed on the one farm.
There have been no easy answers to the civil war in Syria and the high civilian casualty rate. No humanitarian aid has been able to get to the most devastated areas, tens of thousands of refugees are crossing the Turkish, Lebanese, Jordanian and Iraqi borders, hundreds of thousands more are internal refugees living on the land because the towns and cities are too dangerous. The Syrian regime has issued orders that its troops and planes stay at least ten miles from the Turkish border, but that is no guarantee those orders will be obeyed.
The cross-border violence is kicking the whole conflict onto a new level.