Under constant provocation from the Assad regime and shouldering the burden of as many as 150,000 refugees in its camps and towns, Turkey was becoming increasingly unnerved by the worsening security threat from Syria, analysts warned.
As relatives buried the five women and children killed when a mortar fired by the Syrian Army fell on the southern border town of Akcakale – the most serious cross-border escalation in the 19-month uprising – Turkey's parliament voted to authorise military action in Syria “if necessary”.
Ibrahim Kalin, senior advisor to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wrote on Twitter after the vote:
Turks in Istanbul protest against the notion of a possible war with Syria. Turkey fired on Syrian targets for a second day but said it has no intention of declaring war. Photo: AP
Turkey has no interest in a war with Syria. But Turkey is capable of protecting its borders and will retaliate when necessary.— Ibrahim Kalin (@ikalin1) October 4, 2012
Turkey has retaliated to yesterday's incident without declaring war on Syria. Political, diplomatic initiatives will continue.— Ibrahim Kalin (@ikalin1) October 4, 2012
Although Syria said it was investigating the source of the mortar fire, Turkey demanded the United Nations Security Council take action against the regime of Bashar al-Assad over the deaths.
Russia – while urging restraint on both sides – blocked a resolution in the Security Council condemning the attack, Reuters reported.
Turkey's military response to the mortar attack was in stark contrast to its relatively restrained actions when Syria shot down a Turkish reconnaissance jet in June – then it merely strengthened its military presence along the shared border and referred the incident to NATO.
The bloodshed in Syria has escalated in recent weeks and the surge of refugees into neighbouring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq has spiked, prompting predictions that as many as 710,000 Syrians will have fled by the end of the year.
There are already one million internally displaced Syrians, the UN refugee agency estimates.
On Wednesday alone, 48 people died when a series of suicide bombs ripped through a government-controlled district of Aleppo.
Local Syrian activists, who each day release a detailed, town-by-town list of the dead, say more than 31,000 people have been killed since the uprising began.
“The Turks are increasingly unnerved by the security threat emanating from Syria, even more so than the humanitarian burden which is already significant,” warned Mona Yacoubian, a senior Middle East adviser at the Washington-based Stimson Centre.
“It is clear that Turkey is facing domestic constraints on its policies on Syria … by going to the parliament, Turkey clearly understands it must have broader backing domestically for whatever it does.”
At the same time, Ms Yacoubian said, Turkey was reticent about taking further action without also having broader international support from NATO and the UN.
“We are seeing an elaborate signalling by Turkey that these security threats are untenable,” she said.
“The Turks are in an extraordinarily difficult position where they are damned if they do [take action against Syria] and damned if they don't … they are very weary of being increasingly pulled into the Syrian quagmire.”
Amidst the turmoil, the US Institute of Peace launched the latest phase of its “Day After” project, which has drawn together more than 45 Syrian opposition members to develop recommendations and strategies for a transition to a Syria free from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
“We have so many challenges before us we almost didn't know where to start,” said Rafif Jouejati, an executive member of the project and a spokesperson for the Local Coordination Committees in Syria.
“We are looking at the immediate needs of the internally displaced, we are looking at the refugee needs outside of Syria and the absolute devastation across the country.”
But even before Assad's inevitable fall from power, parts of Syria liberated by the rebel Free Syrian Army had already started to rebuild, Ms Jouejati said.
She used the example of the opposition stronghold of Idlib in northwestern Syria where despite the continuing security threat from the Syrian Army, some areas had begun to function under new local councils, outside the control of the Assad regime.
The community had begun to rebuild its industrial bakery, she said, and it was now “producing bread for 80 per cent of its population, it has a new police force with new uniforms and it is becoming a self-sustaining community”.