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NATO backs Turkey, urges restraint

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has thrown its support unambiguously behind Turkey, after the latter responded militarily to an attack from Syria. But NATO also called for conflict to be avoided.

The head of NATO said on Tuesday that the alliance would defend Turkey against an attack from Syria but urged restraint from both parties to prevent that scenario from playing out.

"Obviously, Turkey can rely on NATO solidarity. We have all necessary plans in place to protect and defend Turkey if necessary," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said to reporters before a meeting between NATO defense ministers in Brussels. "We hope it won't be necessary."

"We hope that all parties involved will show restraint and avoid an escalation of the crisis," Rasmussen added. "I do believe that the right way forward in Syria is a political solution."

Rasmussen also praised Ankara for the "restraint it has shown" in the days following "the completely unacceptable Syrian attacks on Turkey."

Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Monday that the "worst case scenarios" were now playing out in their neighbor's war-torn country and that Turkey would take all necessary measures to protect itself.

Turkey and Syria have been exchanging artillery and mortar fire across their border since a shell launched from Syria landed on Turkish soil, killing five civilians.

Suicide bombing near Damascus

As defense secretaries gathered in Brussels, which is expected to be overshadowed by worries about the present conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria, reports emerged that two suicide bombers had struck near Damascus late Monday.

A jihadist group called Al-Nusra had claimed responsibility for the attack on an air force intelligence base, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 

"In revenge for those who have oppressed or killed Muslims, the decision was taken to strike the Air Force intelligence branch in Harasta," Al-Nusra said in a statement posted on jihadist web forums.

State media did not mention the attack.

Around 32,000 people have been killed since the uprising against the Syrian President Bashar Assad first began in March 2011.

sej/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)