Turkey's parliament yesterday authorised the country's military to carry out cross-border operations after clashes drew Syria's neighbour deeper into its 18-month civil war.
Nato and the UN Security Council also held emergency meetings after a Syrian mortar strike on Wednesday killed five members of a family in the Turkish town of Akcakale, provoking retaliation from Ankara. The Turkish armed forces have been shelling Syrian positions since late on Wednesday, killing several soldiers.
Turkish officials have warned that further retaliation may take place. "This last incident is pretty much the final straw," said Bulent Arinc, Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister. "There has been an attack on our land and our citizens lost their lives, which surely has adequate response in international law." A Syrian apology did come later in the day, following pressure from Russia. Besir Atalay, a Turkish minister, announced: "Syria accepts that it did it and apologises. They said nothing like this will happen again. That's good. The UN mediated and spoke to Syria."
Although the apology will go some way towards defusing tensions, the Turkish government stressed that there will be no immediate change to its military posture.
In Damascus, the Information Minister, Omran Zoabi, insisted that Syria respected the sovereignty of other states but appeared to hold Turkey at least partly responsible, because of its support for the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad. "The Syrian-Turkish border is a long one and is being used for smuggling weapons and terrorists," said Mr Zoabi. "Neighbouring countries should act wisely and rationally and responsibly".
There had earlier been unusual public rebuke from Russia – which has so far been a staunch supporter of Syria – with the "advice" that it needed to acknowledge that the deaths were a "tragic accident" and ensure they were not repeated. "We think it is of fundamental importance for Damascus to state that officially," said the Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov.
A UN meeting due after Turkey asked the Security Council to take the "necessary action" to stop Syrian aggression was temporarily postponed after Russia said it needed time to talk to the Assad regime.
Russia then blocked the adoption of a draft statement condemning the attack, saying the text needed to changed.
The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said Turkey's actions were "understandable" but there is no appetite for Western military intervention in an increasingly sectarian civil war which had claimed 30,000 lives.