As explosions rocked the city of Damascus yesterday, Turkey acted on its recent threats and deployed military units to the Syrian border after Assad’s air defenses shot down a Turkish war plane last week.
The BBC reports that Turkish troops, rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns have been moving south toward Syria’s northern border as tensions mount over Syria’s attack on a Turkish F-4 phantom aircraft.
While Syria contends that their forces brought down the plane using short-range anti-aircraft defenses, reports coming from the Turkish capital of Ankara assert that Syria attacked the aircraft in international waters, using a laser-guided or heat-seeking missile. NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, called Syria’s actions against the Turkish aircraft “unacceptable,” and another senior NATO diplomat said that Syria “should have given a warning and then sent up helicopters. You don’t just shoot down the plane.”
Following the attack, Turkey announced a change in its terms of military engagement. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the Turkish Parliament that Syria must be regarded as a “clear and present threat” and that any Syrian “military element” near the Turkish border would evoke a response.
After the announcement, there have been significant clashes between Syrian rebel groups and Assad’s military forces near the 550-mile long Turkish-Syrian border. Tensions rose even higher on Friday when rebel sources spotted a group of Syrian attack helicopters flying only four kilometers from the Turkish border, near the Idlib province.
In addition to tensions created by Syria’s attack on the Turkish aircraft, the violence along the nations’ shared border has created a difficult refugee situation as well. Over 33,000 refugees have reportedly fled Syria and crossed into Turkey.
As well as aiding refugees, activists in southern Turkey have allegedly been involved in smuggling supplies into northern Syria, aiding defected forces and Syrian rebel groups.
The latest United Nations reports estimate that at least 10,000 people have been killed in Syria since pro-democracy demonstrations began in March 2011.
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