Turkey deploys fighter jets to Syria border after frontier village allegedly bombed
According to witnesses, Turkey scrambled two fighter jets to the Syrian border in response to an army helicopter bombing the Syrian border town of Azmarin, Reuters reported.
Fighting between the Syrian government and rebels recently erupted in Azmarin, with several refugees fleeing the violence by crossing the border into Turkey yesterday. The town is approximately one kilometer from the Turkish border.
Tensions between Ankara and Damascus have run high following a brief cross-border shelling attack last week, and after Turkey grounded a Syrian commercial jet en route from Moscow to Damascus on Wednesday over suspicions the plane was carrying illegal cargo.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Ergodan alleged that the Moscow-to-Damascus commercial flight diverted to Ankara on Wednesday was carrying munitions for the Syrian army.
“It is absolutely clear who sent the cargo and who was going to receive it. This was munitions from the Russian equivalent of our Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation being sent to the Syrian Defense Ministry,” Erdogan told journalists, referring to the state-run Turkish manufacturer that supplies the country’s army.
“The examination [of the seized cargo] is continuing and the necessary will follow,” Erdogan said.
Syria accused Ankara of ‘air piracy,’ and insisted that none of the plane’s cargo was illegal.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it has not received an explanation from Turkey detailing the plane’s cargo and its seizure. Moscow slammed Turkey for sending F-16s fighter jets to force the plane to land, endangering the lives of the flight’s 35 passengers.
Russian diplomats and doctors were also not allowed to meet the 17 Russian nationals on board the plane, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aleksandr Lukashevich said. Moreover, as the cargo was being inspected, the passengers were forced to spend nine hours on the plane, and no food was provided.
The incident came as the UN Security Council and NATO urged Turkey and Syria not to further escalate tensions. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle will represent NATO in a visit to Ankara, Turkey, on Saturday in an attempt to defuse the standoff.
“It is important that no one succumb to provocation and that we continue working on a new democratic start in Syria,” said Westerwelle. “It is important that no one pours oil on the fire. We are counting on moderation and de-escalation.”
Turkey has recently increased its military deployments on the Syrian border, including with tanks and F-16 fighter jets. Hürriyet Daily News reported Friday that Ankara has amassed around 250 tanks and 55 jets of various models along the volatile border with its Arab neighbor. Meanwhile, the Turkey’s troops have been put on high alert.
On Wednesday, Turkish Chief of Staff General Necdet Ozel said his troops would respond “with greater force” if the shelling continued, while last week the country’s parliament authorized cross-border operations into Syria. Turkish officials voice fears that the 19-month-long uprising in Syria, which has killed an estimated 19,000 people, will spill over the border.