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Turkey Bans Syrian Flights From Airspace, After Syrian Ban

October 14, 2012

Turkey says it is blocking all Syrian aircraft from Turkish airspace, which comes hours after Damascus banned Turkish civilian flights from passing through Syrian airspace.

The announcement by Syria's state-run news agency SANA came three days after Turkey intercepted a Syrian passenger plane traveling from Moscow to Damascus and seized what officials said was military equipment on board.

Russia has said there were no weapons on the plane, and the cargo was legal radar gear.

Tensions between neighboring Turkey and Syria have risen sharply recently, following the killing of five Turkish civilians by shelling from Syria on October 3.

Turkey, which has been supporting the Syrian rebels, says it is Ankara’s policy to fire back into Syria each time a Syrian shell lands in Turkey – heightening concerns about a possible regional escalation of the conflict.

The United Nations-Arab League envoy for the Syrian crisis, Lakhdar Brahimi, on October 13 visited Istanbul for talks with Turkish officials on the situation. Brahimi is due to travel on to Syrian regime ally Iran, as well as Iraq, in the coming days as part of a regional tour.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who met with Brahimi, reiterated that Turkey will not tolerate any further cross-border incidents with Syria.

"Turkey's retaliation was inevitable in terms of self-defense and deterrence," Davutoglu said. "So we have retaliated. Turkey will retaliate again if its border with Syria is violated again and if we feel that Turkey's national security is in danger."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who also met with Davutoglu, appealed for restraint but also backed Turkey, which is a German ally in NATO.

Westerwelle offered support for Turkey in the row over the Syrian plane that had flown from Russia.

"According to international law, Turkey does not have to tolerate that weapons or other relevant material is being transported to Syria via their airspace," Westerwelle said.

Erdogan: Like Bosnia

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, had further criticism of veto-holding United Nations Security Council members Russia and China – two of the five permanent Security Council members -- over their refusal to support firm UN action on the Syrian crisis.

Speaking at a conference in Istanbul, Erdogan compared the situation to Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s, when the United Nations did little to halt bloodshed during the civil war there, including the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim males in the town of Srebrenica.

"If we leave the issue to the vote of one or two members of the permanent five at the [Security Council of the] United Nations, then the aftermath of Syria would be very hazardous and humanity will write it down in history with unforgettable remarks," Erdogan said.

Russia, a traditional ally of the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, has categorically ruled out supporting outside interference in the conflict, now in its 19th month. China says the conflict must be resolved by Syrians alone.

Turkey and other Sunni Muslim powers in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are strong supporters of the rebels, who are seeking to topple Syria’s Alawite-minority regime.

Iran’s Shi’ite regime and the Lebanese Shi’ite movement Hizballah are regional allies of the government.

More than 30,000 people -- civilians, rebels, and members of the security forces -- are estimated to have been killed since the start of the Syrian conflict.

with reporting from Reuters, AP, and AFP

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/syria-turkey/24738700.html

Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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