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.
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Turkey has in the past talked about creating a humanitarian corridor on Syrian territory if refugee flows became dangerously unmanageable or the scale of killing in Syria became intolerable. But it had always said this would require international endorsement.Skip to next paragraph
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"NATO just doesn't look like it's in the mood," David Hartwell, Middle East analyst, IHS Jane's, said. "What you might get is the Turks forcing a de facto no-fly zone."
Erdogan announced earlier this week that he had issued new rules of engagement to his border troops and said any Syrian military elements approaching Turkish borders and deemed a threat would be treated as a target. But he failed, perhaps deliberately, to specify how close Syrian forces could come to the border before becoming vulnerable.
Rebels sources said they saw two Syrian atack helicopters on Friday flying about 4 km from the Turkish border in Idlib province and landing at an army base at Bab al-Hawa, close to Reyhanli, one of the places where Turkey has stationed anti-aircraft defences.
It was the first time aircraft had been spotted close to the border and appeared to test Turkey's new rules of engagement.
"The Syrians might accept a very narrow zone along the border. Syria will remain very reluctant to get involved in any conflict with Turkey. They would be up against a very serious military foe," Malcolm Chalmers, research director at Britain's Royal United Services Institute, said.
The world has been accused by Syrian opposition activists of inertia over the bloodshed. Diplomacy has failed to produce agreement between Western powers, backing the opposition, and Russia, which has used its U.N. veto to block Western and Sunni Arab moves to drive Assad from power.
Ahead of Saturday's meeting, Russia proposed changes to Annan's plan for a national unity government in Syria, despite initially supporting it, but the United States, Britain and France rejected the amendments, Western diplomats said.
Russia and the other permanent U.N. Security Council members told Annan this week they supported a transitional cabinet that could include government and opposition members but would "exclude ... those whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardise stability and reconciliation," according to Annan's proposal.
Diplomats told Reuters that Annan's idea of excluding certain people was clearly referring to Assad.
Although Russia signaled to Annan this week that his plan was acceptable, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reversed course on
Thursday, diplomats said. Diplomats said the Russians demanded that Annan remove from his proposal the language about excluding people from a Syrian national unity government.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Lavrov were due to hold talks on Friday in St. Petersburg that could be decisive in breaking the impasse. The pair are scheduled to attend the Geneva talks on Saturday.
Annan had made preliminary acceptance of his guidelines for a political transition for Syria a condition for organising Saturday's meeting in Geneva. The meeting is to include the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar. Iran and Saudi Arabia were not invited.
"I think we are going to have a good meeting tomorrow(Saturday). I am optimistic," Annan told Reuters Television.
Assad on Thursday dismissed the notion of any outside solution to the 16-month-old uprising against his rule.
"We will not accept any non-Syrian, non-national model, whether it comes from big countries or friendly countries. No one knows how to solve Syria's problems as well as we do." (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Erika Solomon and Mariam Karounty in Beirut, writing by Ralph Boulton and Peter Millership; editing by Janet McBride)
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