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Syria conflict

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Turkey’s response to a deadly mortar attack from Syria is an ominous sign of cross-border tensions that could erupt into a broader international conflict.

The Turkish military on Thursday struck targets inside Syria after mortar shells launched from Syria struck a Turkish border town, killing five people. The Turkish parliament stopped short of a declaration of war while authorizing further military action in response to the latest in a series of incidents over several weeks going back to June when Syria downed a Turkish warplane. Thursday’s strikes were the first time Turkey had fired back.

Turkey has drawn the ire of Syrian President Bashar Assad for supporting the rebels attempting to oust him in their nearly 18-month-old civil war. Rebels claimed that they helped Turkey’s artillery strikes that killed 14 soldiers and destroyed several armored vehicles. Turkey, which has called for President Assad to step down, has had to provide shelter and other necessities for nearly 100,000 Syrian refugees who have sought safety inside its border. An estimated 30,000 people have died in the conflict that began in March 2011.

However, Turkey and other foes of President Assad, including the United States, have so far been unwilling to intervene directly in the civil war. The Obama administration has also called for President Assad to step down and has provided humanitarian assistance while denying military aid to disorganized rebels.

Russia and China have thwarted international measures through the United Nations, although they did not stand in the way of a Security Council resolution condemning Syria’s shelling “in the strongest terms” while calling for Turkey to “act wisely, rationally and responsibly” and to halt rebel cross-border activity.

The Obama administration has resisted calls for military intervention such as establishing a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians from attacks by Mr. Assad’s air force. However, Turkey is a longtime U.S. ally and a member of NATO, and they could be drawn into the cross-border war if the crisis deepens.

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