Thank you very much for inviting me and giving us a chance to explain our views regarding the events in Syria.
I am sorry for being late; I miscalculated the traffic. There was a holdup.
Maybe I will begin right now with a statement.
The main aim of Turkish foreign policy is the achievement of peace and stability in our region, but the developments with the Arab Spring have changed this situation in the last two years. Particularly in Syria, the crisis is deteriorating further and fast: each day hundreds of innocent people are killed by indiscriminate shelling from regime forces. The political and social backbone of the regime is constantly disintegrating. Defections at various levels, including the military, continue progressively. The situation of more than 2.5 million international displaced persons and the devastated economy only add to the gravity of this tragedy.
Prolongation of the conflict is detrimental for Syria, the Syrian people, and for the region. We need to accelerate this process to the extent possible in order to avoid the further escalation of violence and its spillover to neighbouring regions.
As the violence in Syria escalates, the regime has become a clear and imminent threat in terms of conventional forces and weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems, not only for its people but also for the region and for the southeastern border for NATO.
In view of the visible threat posed by the Syrian regime, we have requested that NATO military authorities review an updated relevant contingency plan. The process is under way.
We consider Syria's ballistic missile capabilities and chemical weapons stockpiles as a serious national security issue. We are also deeply concerned by the growing tensions within Syrian society, which could lead to unbridgeable divides on ethnic and religious fault lines. The longer a solution for the crisis takes, the greater the risk of ethnic strife and civil war.
Extremist or terrorist groups must never be allowed to hijack the popular struggle of Syria and exploit the current turmoil to their benefit. Some terrorists groups, like Al Qaeda or the PKK, are trying to take advantage of the current situation in Syria. We cannot tolerate any attempts by terrorist groups, particularly the PKK, to set up bases in Syria.
A potential mass refugee movement is another grave concern, which may lead to a humanitarian tragedy on our borders. Minister Davutoglu already expressed our views in great detail at the UN Security Council meeting of August 30.
Currently the number of Syrians in the camps in Turkey has passed the threshold of 100,000. We stand in full solidarity with the Syrian people, and we will continue our efforts in addressing their needs. However, we feel that Turkey's open door policy is actually absorbing the potential international reaction, since the tragic consequences of the brutality by the Syrian regime are all tackled by the neighbouring countries. What we expect from our partners is a serious engagement and meaningful contribution in sharing this burden.
In this respect, we should also seek ways to address this humanitarian crisis within the borders of Syria. The threat presented by the regime in Syria is now gaining new dimensions as the regime carries its violent and aggressive policies, which it has been waging against the people, beyond the borders of Syria.
We are determined to take all the necessary measures, in compliance with international law, to protect the borders of Turkey and the fundamental rights and interests of Turkish citizens. The aggressive and hostile acts of the regime in Syria towards Turkey cannot go unanswered.
The town just at the border between Turkey and Syria, Akçakale, has become a target of Syrian artillery since the 20th of September. Our minister was paying a visit to Canada on that same day when they first began, after opposition groups took control of a Syrian border town, Tal Abyad, on the 19th of September.
Since the first artillery shell hit Turkish soil, Turkey has shown utmost care in acting in full compliance with international law as well as established norms and regulations.
Two separate diplomatic notes, underlining the fact that hitting Turkish territory with artillery shells is totally unacceptable and in gross violation of international law, and requesting that the Syrian regime put an immediate end to such aggressive acts, were submitted to the Syrian consulate in Istanbul on September 21 and 27.
The notes also put on record that Turkey upholds its rights emanating from international law and reaffirmed that there won't be any hesitation, on our side, in continuing our retaliation if they persist in their aggressive acts.
As the Syrian forces continued shelling Turkish territory, despite the warnings, Turkish armed forces engaged, in full compliance with international law and the principle of proportionality, the specific area where the Syrian artillery responsible for the shelling was located. We have also been meticulous in keeping the international community informed of the developments.
On October 3, Akçakale was targeted by six artillery shells, killing five innocent Turkish citizens, all women and children. Although the regime authorities have been denying any responsibility since September 20, when they faced Turkey's determined reaction, they acknowledged the responsibility publicly and stopped shelling. This shows that they have the option not to target Turkish territory in the first place, and even if there was a mistake, they had the ability to stop and rectify it. Therefore, it is crystal clear that the regime's position on this matter has been built upon deceit and miscalculation.
At most, attention has been paid to the principle of proportionality while retaliating against this latest violation by the Syrian regime.
NATO, the EU, the UN Security Council, and the Secretary General, as well as many members of the international community, condemn the aggressive acts of the Syrian regime. We thank all of them for their solidarity.
Taking this opportunity, I would like to express our gratitude for the prompt statement of condemnation by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Baird, regarding the shelling by the Syrian regime forces that targeted our territories and killed five innocent citizens.
The security threat Syria projects to its region is now increasingly dangerous. We have seen similar attacks by the regime against Jordan and Lebanon too.
In view of the developments in Syria, the Turkish Parliament adopted on October 4 a decree authorizing the government to dispatch the Turkish armed forces to foreign countries. It's not a declaration of war. However, Turkey is capable of protecting its citizens and borders and will take every necessary measure to make sure that such acts of aggression are not repeated.
During the transition period, the territorial integrity and the national unity of Syria must be preserved. We need to work together to frame a workable transition plan that will preserve the current infrastructure and public institutions. At this stage, we need to focus on expediting the transition process and the exit of the current regime. We cannot tolerate the establishment of any de facto administration in Syria by any single ethnic or religious group.
Those are mainly my points. I am ready to answer your questions.