Oct. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Turkish warplanes warned off a Syrian jet and a helicopter close to the border, a day after Turkish artillery batteries fired on Islamist rebels inside Syria, the military said on its website.
The Syrian MiG-21 fighter flew close to the border, while an IL-76 helicopter changed course within Syrian territory as the Turkish F-16s flew toward them, the military said in a statement.
The aerial confrontation came a day after Turkish artillery opened fire on al-Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters across the frontier, and 85 members of the Syrian rebels’ North Storm Brigade crossed into Turkey and surrendered to Turkish troops with their guns, according to the army.
Eighty-four members of the rebel group were deported early today without weapons, while one was jailed pending charges, the military said without elaborating. The North Storm Brigade is linked to the rebel Free Syrian Army, the Hurriyet newspaper reported on Sept. 30. Radical Islamic fighters linked to al-Qaeda have fought against Kurdish as well as Free Syrian Army rebels over control of border regions.
Artillery batteries using howitzers fired four salvos at positions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham after a mortar round from the Azaz area landed close to the Turkish army border post at Demirisik, near the town of Kilis, on Oct. 15, the military said on its website yesterday, adding that the round did not explode. The army statement didn’t make clear whether the Islamists were firing at their nominal FSA allies.
Islamists and other rebels have engaged in increasingly fierce fighting this year. Hours after the cross-border exchanges, clashes broke out in northern Hassaka province between Kurdish nationalists and Islamists, leaving 41 dead including militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham and the Nusra Front, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on its website yesterday, citing local activists.
Islamic fighters linked to al-Qaeda are asserting growing control over border areas close to Turkey. The al-Tawhid Brigade has deployed tanks seized from the Syrian army to fortify its positions at the Es Selame border crossing near Kilis in Turkey, the military said, citing defecting members of the North Storm Brigade.
Turkey has denied backing radical Islamic fighters, while acknowledging that it’s aiding members of the Free Syrian Army in their struggle to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. On Oct. 1, he used a Turkish television interview to accuse Turkey of aiding the flow of Islamist fighters.
Turkish authorities have blamed a Turkish group linked to the Syrian regime for car bombings that killed 53 people in Reyhanli near the Syrian border in May.
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