Turkey Moves Tanks to Hilltops Overlooking Syria

Turkey deployed tanks and missile defense systems on hilltops overlooking Syria today, the state- run Anatolia news agency said.

The deployment in Mursitpinar, near the border town of Suruc, came hours after Turkey scrambled fighter jets after a Syrian helicopter came close to the border, according to a Turkish official who declined to be identified because the information is sensitive.

Turkey has threatened to target Syrian military elements if they pose a security threat, following the downing of a Turkish military jet by Syria in June.

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

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which called the attack on Akcakale “a flagrant breach of international law,” praised Turkey’s restraint on Oct. 9 and assured the Turkish government of the alliance’s military support if it’s attacked.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu survived an opposition censure motion in parliament today for allegedly bringing Turkey to the brink of war with Syria.

The ruling Justice and Development Party used its almost 60 percent majority in the 550-seat parliament to defeat the motion by the Republican People’s Party.

Syrian Denials

In an interview published in the Turkish newspaper Aydinlik today, Assad denied Turkish accusations that Syria was aiding militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known by its Kurdish acronym PKK, an armed separatist group in Turkey’s southeast.

“The Turkish government is circulating these claims to legitimize its support to armed groups” fighting the government, Assad said, according to the newspaper.

About 500 Syrian officers, including 40 generals, and 500 soldiers have deserted to Turkey since fighting broke out between rebels and government forces in March 2011, Suphi Atan, a Foreign Ministry official, said by phone today from the border province of Kilis.

At least 210 people were killed across Syria yesterday, including 47 in Idlib, the opposition Local Coordination Committees said in an e-mailed statement. It said 51 people were killed today and that the rebels have captured the 80th Brigade air defense base in Aleppo.

Cargo Seized

The base was taken by rebels and Sunni fundamentalist fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant, Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition activist group, said by telephone from Coventry, England.

Turkey forced a Syrian passenger plane from Russia, with 17 Russians on board, to land in Ankara on Oct. 10 and confiscated its cargo on grounds that it included military equipment and munitions for the Syrian Defense Ministry. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday the cargo was sent from “a Russian institution” equivalent to Turkey’s state arms manufacturer.

The plane was carrying 12 crates of technical components for radar stations that are part of Syria’s air-defense systems, Moscow-based Kommersant reported today, without saying where it got the information.

More Refugees

Davutoglu was scheduled to meet United Nations Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in Istanbul tomorrow to discuss mounting tensions with Syria, state-run Anatolia news agency said today.

Turkey shelters 99,500 refugees in camps along the border, and another 14,000 Syrians are waiting to cross into the country, Atan said.

“We are accepting 600 to 700 Syrians daily,” Atan said. Turkey has 15 refugee camps along the 911-kilometer (569-mile) border with Syria and is building two more, he said.

About 8,000 people are waiting across the border point of Oncupinar in Kilis, Atan said. The rest are scattered along border areas in Hatay and Sanliurfa provinces.

Turkey, which has been distributing food and humanitarian supplies to refugees who remain on the Syrian side of the border, has appealed to the UN to shoulder the burden of sheltering Syrians who have fled the fighting between rebels and government forces.

Some Syrian refugees were using small boats to cross the Orontes River, which runs through the border, NTV television footage showed today.

To contact the reporter on this story: Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at shacaoglu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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