Syria opposes escalation of violence with Turkey
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Syria's U.N. envoy said Thursday 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 that killed five Turkish civilians 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 deeply divided U.N. 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.
The Security Council has so far failed to respond to Wednesday's deadly attack from Syria.
The U.S. and its Western allies are seeking a strong statement condemning the attack on Turkey but Russia, Syria's most important ally, is opposed and is seeking much weaker language that the West says is unacceptable, U.N. diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because talks have been private.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the original draft, proposed by Azerbaijan and backed by the Turkish government, "adequately reflected the key points that need to be made." But diplomats said many council members objected to Russia's proposed amendments watering down the text. So council experts were meeting to see if they could bridge the differences.
"This sort of cross-border military activity is very destabilizing and must be stopped," Rice said. "While I think it's too early to say what will be the result of those negotiations, we think it's very important that the council speak clearly and swiftly to condemn this shelling."
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 for 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.
But he said the council once again has been unable to condemn "these suicide terrorist attacks."
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.