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September 20, 2017

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UN condemns Syria over Turkey border shelling

DAMASCUS -- The U.N. Security Council strongly condemned Syria over its deadly shelling of a Turkish border town as regime forces pounded the city of Homs on Friday in the most intense bombardment in months, monitors said.

Calm had returned to the border area and there were no further reprisals, an AFP journalist said, and although Ankara's parliament approved further action in Syria after Turkish artillery hit back at Syrian army positions, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there were no plans to go to war.

Turkey had demanded strong Security Council action after Syrian fire killed five of its nationals in the border town of Akcakale on Wednesday, including a mother and her three children.

After hours of haggling between Turkey's Western allies on the Security Council and longtime Syria backer Russia, the top U.N. body issued its statement, which although toughly worded was a rung down from a formal resolution.

"The members of the Security Council condemn in the strongest terms the shelling by the Syrian armed forces," the statement said.

The text also urged "restraint" and Guatemala's ambassador to the United Nations, the current council president, said this applied to both Syria and Turkey.

Nearly all of the message, however, was aimed at Syria.

Saying the shelling "highlighted the grave impact the crisis in Syria has on the security of its neighbours and on regional peace," the council "demanded that such violations of international law stop immediately and are not repeated."

Wednesday's incident marked the first time that Turkish civilians have been killed by Syrian fire since the start of an uprising in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.

Turkey retaliated by counter-shelling Syrian positions. Reports spoke of several Syrian soldiers killed, but the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations said two soldiers were only wounded.

The Turkish premier said that the authorization given by parliament for further military action was not a mandate for war but said that his nation's borders and citizens would be defended.

Syrian warplanes, meanwhile, bombed a rebel neighborhood of Homs on Friday, monitors said, adding that it was the first time that fighter jets had been used against the central city.

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that the bombardment of the Khaldiyeh district was the heaviest to hit Syria's third-largest city in five months.

A total of 170 people were killed in violence on Thursday — 74 civilians, 48 rebels and 48 soldiers, the Observatory said.

The border region between Turkey and northern Syria was quiet on Friday, an AFP journalist in Akcakale said, although the Turkish military had amassed tanks and anti-aircraft missiles.

Several military vehicles were patrolling the Turkish town, which lies opposite the Tall al-Abyad border post controlled by Syrian rebels since last month. Local residents were freely crossing over to the Syrian side of the border to provide water and food for their Syrian neighbors.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Turkish retaliatory fire had been an "appropriate" and "proportional" response.

However, Russia, which accuses the West of fuelling the conflict by helping rebels trying to oust Assad's regime, said the Syrian shelling had been "a tragic accident."

Turkish officials said Syria had apologized but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was "vital that Damascus states this officially."

Syria has been pushing for a matching Security Council statement condemning a series of car bombs claimed by a jihadist group that killed almost 50 people in government-controlled areas in the heart of Aleppo on Wednesday.

Talks on a Russian draft were expected to take place later on Friday.

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