UN strongly condemns Syrian shelling of Turkey
The U.N. Security Council overcame deep divisions to unanimously approve a statement Thursday condemning Syria's shelling of a Turkish town that killed five women and children "in the strongest terms."
Council members managed to bridge differences between the strong statement demanded by the United States and its Western supporters and backed by their NATO ally Turkey, and a weaker text pushed by Russia, Syria's most important ally, after negotiations that began late Wednesday and continued through Thursday.
In the press statement, which needed approval from all 15 council members, the U.N.'s most powerful body said the incident "highlighted the grave impact the crisis in Syria has on the security of its neighbors and on regional peace and stability."
It also extended condolences to the families of the victims and to the government and people of Turkey.
The council demanded an immediate end to such violations of international law and called on the Syrian government "to fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors." Russia's agreement that the Syrian shelling violated international law was a key concession by Moscow.
The original Western-backed draft, proposed by Azerbaijan, condemned the shelling "in the strongest terms" and called it a violation of international law. Proposed Russian amendments never mentioned any breaches of international law, so the inclusion in the final text was a concession by Moscow.
Earlier Thursday, Syria's U.N. envoy said his government is not seeking any escalation of violence with Turkey and wants to maintain good neighborly relations.
Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said the government hasn't apologized for the shelling from Syria because it is waiting for the outcome of an investigation on the source of the firing.
He read reporters a letter he delivered to the Security Council that sent Syria's "deepest condolences" to the families of the victims "and to the friendly and brotherly people of Turkey."
It urged Turkey and its other neighbors to "act wisely, rationally and responsibly" and to prevent cross-border infiltration of "terrorists and insurgents" and the smuggling of arms.
During Thursday's negotiations on the text when the outcome was still in doubt, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters "we think it's very important that the council speak clearly and swiftly to condemn this shelling."
"This sort of cross-border military activity is very destabilizing and must be stopped," she said.
The border violence has added a dangerous new dimension to Syria's civil war, dragging Syria's neighbors deeper into a conflict that activists say has already killed 30,000 people since an uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime began in March 2011.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm Thursday at the escalating border tensions and warned that the risks of regional conflict and the threat to international peace is increasing, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
The U.N. chief called on all parties "to abandon the use of violence, exercise maximum restraint and exert all efforts to move toward a political solution," he said.
Nesirky said Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy, has been in contact with Turkish and Syrian officials "in order to encourage an easing of tensions."
Syria's Ja'afari said the "Syrian government is keenly interested in maintaining good neighborly relations with Turkey."
"The Syrian government is not seeking any escalation with any of its neighbors, including Turkey," he stressed.
But he said Syria wants to explain to the Turkish people that their government's policies supporting the opposition "are wrong and have been wrong since the beginning of the crisis."
Ja'afari said Turkey responded to the incident by launching artillery shells into Syria starting at 7 p.m. local time Wednesday and stopping at midnight. Turkish troops then resumed artillery shelling Thursday morning until 7 a.m., injuring two Syrian army officers, he said.
"Our forces practiced self-restraint and did not respond to this Turkish artillery shelling," Ja'afari said.
The Syrian ambassador said he delivered another letter to the Security Council seeking its condemnation of four suicide bombings in the country's largest city and commercial capital, Aleppo, which killed scores of innocent civilians and took place about the same time Wednesday as the cross-border shelling. He called them "suicide terrorist attacks."
Guatemala's U.N. Ambassador Gert Rosenthal, the current Security Council president who read the statement on Syria, said he is awaiting final approval from all council members on another press statement on the Aleppo attacks. The deadline for objections is 10:00 a.m. EDT Friday, he said.
Ja'afari urged the Turkish government to show "the same kind of sympathy" to the hundreds of innocent Syrian civilians killed in the suicide bombings as the Syrian government showed to the Turkish victims.
Some of the suicide bombers "came through the Turkish-Syrian border, so things should be balanced," he said.