Turkey Moves Tanks to Hilltops Overlooking Syria

Turkey’s government threatened to respond to any further attacks from Syria, after shelling across the frontier last week killed five Turkish citizens.

“Turkey will retaliate if Syria violates its border again,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at a news conference yesterday in Istanbul. “We will do what’s necessary.”

Turkey deployed tanks and missile-defense systems on hilltops overlooking Syria last week, the state-run Anatolia news agency said, hours after Turkish jet fighters confronted a Syrian helicopter that flew close to the border. Turkey has threatened to target Syrian forces if they pose a security risk. Syria downed a Turkish fighter jet in June.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized the United Nations Security Council yesterday for its failure to agree on decisive steps to end the 19-month civil war in Syria, the Associated Press reported.

More than 30,000 people have died nationwide during the 19- month civil war, according to opposition groups, and the violence is becoming more indiscriminate. President Bashar al- Assad’s forces are using cluster bombs, which detonate and then disperse smaller bomblets, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

“Syria’s disregard for its civilian population is all too evident in its air campaign, which now apparently includes dropping these deadly cluster bombs into populated areas,” Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch, said in a report.

Exchange of Fire

Turkey’s ties with Syria, once an ally, deteriorated over Turkish backing for Syrian rebels fighting forces loyal to Assad. Turkey fired artillery in response to Syrian shelling that killed the five people in the Turkish border town of Akcakale on Oct. 3.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, of which Turkey is a member, called the attack on Akcakale “a flagrant breach of international law,” and assured the Turkish government of the alliance’s military support if it’s attacked.

Davutoglu spoke after holding talks in Istanbul with Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN and Arab League special envoy to Syria, and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. He didn’t comment on the discussions.

Turkish Airways Ban

Brahimi is also planning for a 3,000 troop peacekeeping force that might involve European troops in policing a future truce and has been sounding out which countries would be willing to contribute soldiers, according to Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Syria is ready to start talks with Turkey to ease tensions between the two countries, according to state-run SANA agency, citing a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry. The statement welcomed a proposal by the foreign minister of Syria’s ally Russia, Sergei Lavrov, to “create a mechanism of direct dialogue on security issues between Syria and Turkey.”

Syria banned Turkish Airlines flights from Syrian airspace, according to SANA. Turkey grounded a Syrian plan on its way from Moscow to Damascus last week and seized what it said was military equipment. The Moscow-based newspaper Kommersant said the plane was carrying parts for Syrian air-defense radar.

Refugee Camps

Rebel forces in Syria last week captured the village of Azmarin in the province of Idlib, near the Turkish border, Anatolia reported. Syrian forces also attacked the rebel-held village of Derkush in Idlib with tanks and ground forces, the state-run Turkish news agency said.

Turkey is sheltering 99,500 refugees in camps along the border, and another 14,000 Syrians are waiting to cross into the country, according to Turkey’s Foreign Ministry.

Syrian security forces killed 143 people across the country yesterday, the Opposition Local Coordination Committees said in an e-mailed statement. Syrian rebels in the Damascus suburb of al-Ateba have captured an air defense brigade after clashes with government forces that lasted for eight hours, the Observatory for Human Rights in Syria said in an e-mailed statement. At least eight rebels and 15 government soldiers were killed during the fight, according to the statement.

Syrian forces “eliminated a large number of terrorists” in fighting in the northwestern commercial hub of Aleppo, the government-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported. The army also fought rebels who “cut off roads” in Idlib, killing and injuring some of them, the news service said.

MiG Shot Down

Syrian rebels in Aleppo shot down a government MiG warplane, the rebels’ Free Syrian Army said on its Facebook page. Rebels posted footage on YouTube showing the wreckage of the aircraft in flames and armed men surrounding it.

The Observatory for Human Rights in Syria confirmed the rebels’ claim and said the jet had bombed the town of Khan al- Asal in the suburbs of Aleppo.

Syrian government forces set the historic Umayyad mosque in Aleppo on fire and damaged the shrine of the Prophet Zechariah, father of John the Baptist and venerated in Islamic and Judeo- Christian traditions, located inside the mosque, Al Jazeera television reported.

The rebels’ Free Syrian Army later captured the mosque and advanced to besiege the city’s medieval Citadel, which is occupied by government forces, Al Jazeera reported.

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