NATO plans ready to back Turkey on Syrian tension

NATO plans ready to back Turkey on Syrian tension

NATO plans ready to back Turkey on Syrian tension

NATO chief Rasmussen (L) listens to Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz in Brussels. REUTERS photo

NATO has plans in place to defend Turkey against attack from Syria if necessary, the alliance’s chief said yesterday, while at the same time expressing hope that the two countries would find a way to stop tension escalating.

“We have all necessary plans in place to protect and defend Turkey if necessary,” Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters before a meeting of the alliance’s defense ministers in Brussels.

“I would like to commend the Turkish government for the restraint it has shown in its response to the completely unacceptable Syrian attacks,” Rasmussen said. “Obviously Turkey has a right to defend herself within international law,” he said. “We hope it won’t be necessary, we hope that both countries will show restraint and avoid an escalation of the crisis.”

His words came as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the Syrian regime to declare an immediate truce to bring an end to the conflict that he said had left 20,000 dead over the last 19 months. “It is unbearable for the [Syrian] people to continue like this. That is why I have conveyed to the Syrian government a strong message that they should immediately declare a unilateral ceasefire,” he said.

He told a joint press conference in Paris with French President François Hollande that the reaction he had got from the Syrian government had been to ask what opposition forces would do if the regime called a truce. “That is exactly what I have discussed and I am in the process of discussing with the member states of the (United Nations) Security Council and the countries in the region,” he said.

Ban urged “the opposition forces to agree to this unilateral ceasefire when and if the Syrian government declares it,” and he called on countries supplying arms to either side to stop in order to ease the suffering of the Syrian people.

For his part, Hollande said: “There have been very serious incidents at the border with Turkey. An escalation could have been possible and was only avoided because Turkey showed restraint, but for how long?”