NATO Chief Pledges to Defend Turkey Against Syria

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen calls for a political solution to Syria's civil war, but adds that Ankara can rely on the alliance for protection if necessary.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Tuesday it is ready to defend alliance member Turkey amid artillery exchanges along its tense southeastern border with Syria.

Rasmussen said Tuesday that Ankara can rely on the alliance, which has "all necessary plans in place to protect and defend Turkey if necessary."

But he appealed to all parties involved to show restraint and avoid an escalation in the crisis.

"We hope that all parties involved will show restraint and avoid an escalation of the crisis," he added. "I do believe that the right way forward in Syria is a political solution."

Rasmussen commended Ankara for the "restraint it has shown" so far following "the completely unacceptable Syrian attacks on Turkey."

Turkey and Syria have exchanged mortar and cannon fire across their common border since errant Syrian shells killed five Turkish civilians last week. The border region has been the scene of bloody clashed between Syrian government forces and rebel militants who have used safe havens within Turkey.

Syria says it is not seeking any escalation of violence with Turkey. 

Turkey and Syria recently exchanged blows for five straight days as tensions along the volatile border stoked fears of a regional conflagration.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Saturday warned that Ankara would respond forcefully to each errant Syrian shell that lands on Turkish soil. The latest Syria-Turkey crisis erupted earlier this week, after a Syrian shell killed five civilians in a Turkish border town.

Inside Syria on Sunday, forces loyal to President Bashar Assad clashed with rebels across the country, from the northern city of Aleppo to the southern border with Jordan. Activists said opposition fighters were strengthening their hold over the village off Khirbet al-Jouz, in the northern province of Idlib, which borders Turkey and where violent clashes broke out a day earlier.

The Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency said Sunday that the rebels had regained full control of Khirbet al-Jouz. It said the Syrian army was forced to "pull back" following an "offensive" by some 700 rebels.

It also reported that Assad's troops were forced to retreat some 20 kilometers toward the town of Jisr al-Shughour. It said rebels in Khirbet al-Jouz celebrated their victory by firing their weapons into the air.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces pulled out of two villages in the Idlib countryside near Turkey. In Khirbet al-Jouz, wounded Syrian soldiers were left to fend for themselves after government troops were forced to retreat from the area, the Observatory said.

The reports could not be independently confirmed, and it was not clear whether the wounded soldiers were captured by the rebels.

Turkish military station at the border gate with Syria - AP - October 7, 2012.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen - AP - October 9, 2012.