Turkey reinforces border: Assad's helicopters hammer northern Syria (+video)
Turkey reinforced its border with missile batteries Thursday. Syrian tanks massed 20 miles from the border with Turkey. Helicopters attacked Saraqeb, Syria.
Helicopter gunships bombarded a strategic town in northern Syria overnight and tanks moved close to the commercial hub of Aleppo, rebels said, but kept well clear of new Turkish air defenses installed to curb Syrian action near its frontiers.Skip to next paragraph
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Turkish commanders inspected the missile batteries deployed on the border region on Thursday following Syria's shooting down of a Turkish warplane a week ago, which has sharply raised tensions between the two nations.
The Turkish deployments, a graphic warning to President Bashar al-Assad, coincide with rising violence across Syria and increasingly urgent international efforts to forge a peace deal as the nation slips into full-blown war.
As the Turkish-Syrian dimension ratcheted up further pressure, peace envoy Kofi Annan said on Friday he was "optimistic" that crisis talks in Geneva on Saturday would produce an acceptable outcome, which has so far proved elusive.
Regional analysts said that while neither Turkey nor its NATO allies appeared to have any appetite to enforce a formal no-fly zone over Syrian territory, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had made it clear Assad would be risking what he called the 'wrath' of Turkey if its aircraft strayed close to its borders.
Recently, there were clashes close to the border between Syrian forces and rebels. Last weekend, Damascus said "terrorists" infiltrating from Turkey were killed and there have been reports of Syrian forces shooting into camps for refugees in Turkey.
The United States, Britain and France have said that Assad is responsible for the violence, which the United Nations estimates has killed at least 10,000 people, and is no longer fit to govern. Russia and China, however, reject what they describe as Western calls for "regime change".
Turkey, sheltering some 34,000 Syrian refugees and providing bases for the rebel Free Syria Army (FSA), is in the forefront of the efforts to bring down Assad.
SYRIAN TANKS MASS
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 190 people, including 125 civilians, were killed on Thursday.
General Mustafa al-Sheikh, head of the Higher Military Council, a grouping of senior officers who defected from Assad's forces, said around 170 Syrian tanks had assembled at an infantry school near the village of Musalmieh northeast of the city of Aleppo, just 30 kms (19 miles) from the Turkish border.
"They're either preparing to move to the border to counter the Turkish deployment or attack the rebellious (Syrian) towns and villages in and around the border zone north of Aleppo," Sheikh told Reuters by telephone from the border.
Omar Abdallah, an activist in Idlib coordinating with the Free Syrian Army said: "After taking hits in rural Aleppo and Idlib, the army is re-grouping ... There is speculation that these forces intend to ring Aleppo starting July 1."
Rebel sources in Turkey's Hatay region said Assad's helicopters attacked Saraqeb, a strategic town deep in Idlib province, but kept away from the area directly along the Turkish border in the rural regions of Idlib and Aleppo provinces.
Neither Turkey, which fears a local clash escalating into a regional sectarian conflagration, nor Syria, has any interest in a confrontation on their shared border.
Ankara, which has the second biggest army in NATO, called an emergency NATO meeting after its warplane was shot down.
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