May 20, 2018
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Turkey shells Syrian targets but says war not on agenda

By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles TImes

BEIRUT — Turkish officials declared their country does not want to enter a war with Syria, even as lawmakers authorized further military operations against the embattled nation and Turkish artillery struck Syrian positions for a second day.
“We have no intention for a war,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told journalists in Ankara, reported the semi-official Anatolia news agency. “We only want peace and security in our region.”
Turkey’s retaliatory artillery strikes on Syrian territory have ratcheted up fears that Syria’s more than 18-month civil conflict could trigger a regional war in the volatile Middle East.
Turkey unleashed an artillery bombardment on Syria in response to what Turkish officials called a Syrian military shelling strike Wednesday that hit a Turkish border town and killed five people, including a mother and her three children. The incident, which Turkish officials blamed on the Syrian military, drew outrage in Turkey and elsewhere.
The episode also escalated tensions in the volatile region and prompted emergency meetings at both the United Nations and NATO, of which Turkey is a member.
The U.N. Security Council said in a statement late Thursday that it condemned the shelling “in the strongest terms.”
“This incident highlighted the grave impact the crisis in Syria has on the security of its neighbors and on regional peace and stability,” said the council, which called for an end to such violations of international law.
Turkish officials appeared determined to play down any possibility of a war with Syria _ despite Parliament’s approval Thursday of measure that would allow additional military operations outside Turkish borders. Turkish officials quickly labeled the parliamentary action a “deterrent” that did not signal a widening conflict with Syria.
“This is not a war mandate,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay told reporters in Ankara after Turkish lawmakers voted.
Outside the Parliament building, police used tear gas to disperse anti-war protesters, according to media reports.
Turkey’s artillery strikes on Syrian territory ended at about dawn Thursday, said a Syrian rebel fighter in the Syrian border district of Tal Abyad.
“There is complete silence here,” said the fighter, who gave his name as Abu Yazan.
Syrian rebels occupied Tal Abyad, which is adjacent to Akcakale, two weeks ago after fierce fighting with Syrian military forces. But the Syrian military continued shelling rebel positions in the town, the opposition says, and several Syrian shells landed on the Turkish side before Wednesday’s fatal incident.
Syria has not publicly acknowledged responsibility for the incident, nor has it issued a public apology. Damascus has expressed “condolences” to the Turkish people and said it is investigating.
Russia, a close ally of Syria, said it had been informed by Syria that the incident was a “tragic accident” that would not be repeated, said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, according to Russian media accounts.
Turkish authorities seemed satisfied that the retaliatory artillery fire had signaled their outrage to Syria. Turkey’s move followed a number of Syrian actions that the Turks viewed as provocative, including the downing of a Turkish fighter jet over the eastern Mediterranean in June, killing two pilots.
There have been unconfirmed reports of casualties on the Syrian side from the Turkish shelling.
Reports in the Turkish media indicate that many view the strike on Turkish territory as deliberate and not as a case of errant shelling from the Syrian side.
International leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, have condemned Syria for its role in the incident. Clinton called the crisis “a very dangerous situation.”

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