ANKARA, Oct. 10 (Xinhua) -- A stern warning issued by Turkey's top military commander against Syria on Wednesday is yet another indication that tension over border incidents between Turkey and Syria, former allies, will not subside anytime soon.
Chief of General Staff General of the Turkish Armed Froces Necdet Ozel vowed to give a "harsher response" to Syria if mortar strikes from the neighboring country continue to make its way into Turkish soil. Dressed in army fatigues while inspecting troops along the border with Syria, Ozel said, "if Syria continues with further shelling, we will respond with greater force."
Ozel visited the border town of Akcakale of Sanliurfa province in southeastern Tureky, where a Syrian mortar shell killed five Turkish civilians last week. He was accompanied by senior commanders including 2nd Army Commander Galip Mendi who is in charge of protecting Turkey's borders with Syria.
Expanding on Ozel's statement, Huseyin Celik, the governing party spokesman, said on Wednesday that it is the job of army to protect the national security and borders of Turkey 24 hours and 365 days. "If Bashar al-Assad goes overboard in hurting our citizens and the country, he will elicit a response from Turkey. That is what in effect our commander Ozel said at the border," he explained.
"Ozel's statement serves as a boost to Turkey's deterrence towards Syrian attacks," Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, the head of Ankara 's International Strategic and Security Research Center (USGAM), told Xinhua over the phone. "I think he is trying to get the message across military commanders in Syria as well," he added.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay defended the government's position on Syria on Wednesday. "We are carefully investigating where these mortars came from, who fired them, including manufacturer and model numbers of these bombs to make a true assessment," he said during a TV interview on Wednesday.
Atalay also dismissed reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin has postponed his scheduled visit to Turkey that was planned for Oct. 14-15 until November because of differences over Syria. Putin was planning to visit Turkey for a meeting of the Turkey- Russia High Level Cooperation Council, which was established in 2010. Russian sources said that the postpone request came from Putin who phoned Erdogan on Monday.
In the meantime, Turkish armed forces continue to beef up security along the 910-kilometer border with Syria in recent days. More troops and heavy weaponry including howitzers, anti-aircraft weapons, long-range artillery guns were diverted to Syrian border while 25 additional F-16 fighter jets were forwarded to a key air force base in southeastern province Diyarbakir.
The Turkish government has repeatedly said it does not wish to have a war with neighboring Syria but made it clear that it will retaliate to any attack targeting Turkish interests in kind. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned Ankara will not shy away from war if forced to act.
Delivering a speech on Wednesday during the Organization of Islamic Cooperation's (OIC) Economic and Commercial Cooperation Permanent Committee (ISEDAK) meeting in Istanbul, Erdogan said Turkey has no interest in interfering into Syrian domestic affairs.
Turkish Tourism and Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay said on Wednesday that he does not see Turkey in a risk of war, saying that the military confines itself with retaliatory strikes only when it was fired upon across the border line. "I do not expect Syria will have the courage to escalate this. I don't wish to see that happen either," he said.
Opposition parties in Turkey continue to hammer down on the government over Syrian policy, accusing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for dragging Turkey into a war with Syria.
On Tuesday, Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said in the Parliament, "We don't want war. We don't want our children's blood to be shed on Arab soil. What renders Turkey powerful is not a motion for a war but its democracy." The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Chairman Selahattin Demirtas also claimed that the government is preparing the groundwork for a war with Syria.
The object of criticism is the recent parliamentary motion that allows the government to send troops into Syria if the government deems it necessary. The motion was approved with a majority of votes in the Parliament last week in the aftermath of a mortar shell that hit the Turkish town on the Syrian border.
The opposition claimed the motion was part of the war preparation by the government while the government said it was only for deterrence and has no desire to engage in a conflict with Syria.
As a assign of solidarity, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Tuesday the 28-member military alliance was ready to defend Turkey in case of hostilities with Syria. He expressed his hope however that tension will not escalate along the border and the two neighbors will find a way to resolve issues peacefully.
"We have all necessary plans in place to protect and defend Turkey if necessary," Rasmussen said, stressing that Turkey can count on NATO solidarity for its defense. Turkey's defense minister Ismet Yilmaz is currently in Brussels to attend high- level meetings in NATO.