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Shelling of Turkey blasted

Security Council condemns bombardment; Syria withholds apology

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The UN Security Council overcame deep divisions to unanimously approve a statement Thursday condemning "in the strongest terms" Syria's shelling of a Turkish town that killed five women and children.

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 UN's most powerful body said the incident "highlighted the grave impact the crisis in Syria has on the security of its neighbours 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 neighbours."

Earlier Thursday, Syria's UN envoy said his government is not seeking any escalation of violence with Turkey and wants to maintain good neighbourly 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 neighbours 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 neighbours 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.

UN 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, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

The UN chief called on all parties "to abandon the use of violence, exercise maximum restraint and exert all efforts to move toward a political solution," Nesirky said.

He said Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-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 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."

He 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 practised self-restraint and did not respond to this Turkish artillery shelling," Ja'afari said.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 5, 2012 A21

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