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Syria apologizes (sort of) for attack on Turkey

The Syrian government sought to avert an escalating military confrontation with Turkey today, offering its condolences to Turkey and the families affected by the Wednesday mortar attack, which killed a woman and four children, according to a Syrian letter to the U.N. Security Council and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.  But Damascus stopped short of apologizing for the cross border strike against Turkey, a NATO member, and it offered no condolences to the Turkish government, reflecting the ongoing tensions between the two states.

The Syrian gesture came as NATO members convened in Brussels to consider a response to the cross border attack on a member of the organization, and Ban voiced growing concern over the risk that the confrontation might have on regional peace.

Syria's U.N. ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari, informed the U.N. in the letter that Syrian authorities "are seriously investigating" the circumstances leading up to the Wednesday mortar strike in the town of Akcakale. Regarding Turkey's military response, Jaafari noted that two Syrian Army officers were injured in a succession of artillery attacks on installations just south of the Syrian village of Tal Abiad. The Turkish barrage began at 7 p.m., stopped around midnight, and then resumed until 7 a.m. this morning. Syria did not respond to the Turkish fire.

Relations between Syria and Turkey, once close allies, have deteriorated since President Bashar al-Assad launched a violent crackdown on anti-government protesters in March 2011. The Turkish government has permitted anti-government insurgents to move weapons, cash, and other supplies across the Turkish border to rebel fighters seeking the overthrow of the Syrian regime.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League special representative on Syria has been working with the two sides to ease tensions. The U.N. chief, meanwhile, expressed "alarm" over the standoff, saying, through his spokesman, that "the risks of regional conflict and the threat to international peace and security are also increasing."  

Brahimi said the two governments should handle the border incidents "wisely, rationally and responsibly" and asked the Turkish government  to cooperate with the Syrian authorities to impose greater controls over the border between the two countries.

Jaafari responded, saying that Syria conducts its relations with its neighbors with "rules of good neighborliness and respect for national sovereignties of states" but it expects its neighbors to "respect the national sovereignty of Syria, and to cooperate in border control and prevention of the infiltration of insurgents and terrorists."

The Syrian missive was transmitted to the council as it is weighing its response to the Syrian mortar attack. Last night, Azerbaijan introduced a statement condemning the Syrian strike as a threat to international peace and security and demanding that such acts stop immediately. But Russia, which has claimed that Syrian authorities have assured Moscow that the cross-border attack was an accident, blocked the statement's approval, and offered a competing statement that would also condemn the Syria strike but which called on both sides to "exercise restraint and avoid military clashes that could lead to further escalations."

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