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 Turkey scrambles jets as Syria aircraft near border

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Turkey scrambles jets as Syria aircraft near border  2.7.2012  








Turkish F-16 fighter. Photo credit: Peter R. Foster
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Turkey says scrambled F16s to check Syrian border

July 2
, 2012


ANKARA,— Turkey scrambled six F-16 fighter jets in three separate incidents responding to Syrian military helicopters approaching the border on Sunday, its armed forces command said on Monday.

It was the second time in as many days Turkish jets were launched in response to Syrian helicopters flying near the border and comes after a Turkish reconnaissance plane was shot down by Syria late last month.

The jets took off from Incirlik air base in southern Turkey after Syrian helicopters were spotted flying south of the Turkish province of Hatay, the chief of general staff said on the military's website.

Two helicopters had come within 2.5 miles (4 km) and one had come within 2 miles (3.2 km) of the border, it said. Two of the helicopters were MI-8 type aircraft and one was an MI-17, all Russian-built transport helicopters.

On Sunday, Turkey said it had scrambled six F-16s near its border with Syria after similar transport helicopters were spotted flying either within 4 miles (6.4 km) of the border or "close" to the border.

Turkey's heightened military activity along its southern border comes after Syria shot down one of its jets over the Mediterranean on June 22, prompting a sharp rebuke from Ankara which said it would respond "decisively".

Turkey has beefed up its troop presence and air defences along the border since the incident and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said the military's rules of engagement had been changed and that any Syrian element approaching Turkey's border and deemed a threat would be treated as a military target.

Syria says it shot down the Turkish jet in self-defence and that it was brought down in Syrian air space. Turkey says the jet accidentally violated Syrian air space for a few minutes but was brought down in international air space.

While the incident has heightened tension between the once-close allies, neither Turkey, which fears a local clash escalating into a regional sectarian conflict,www.ekurd.net nor Syria, has any interest in a confrontation on their shared border.

Turkey has become increasingly vocal against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, calling for him to step down, and has given sanctuary to rebels and groups opposing the Syrian leader. There are more than 35,000 Syrian refugees living in camps on the Turkish side of the border with Syria.

Separately, Turkey's armed forces command said it had carried out air strikes on three separate Kurdish militant targets in northern Iraq between the dates of June 26-30.

It said the strikes were carried out in the Qandil and Zab areas and targeted shelters belonging to the "separatist terror organisation", a term used to describe the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which is fighting for greater Kurdish autonomy in Turkey. It gave no further details.

The PKK has several times proposed peaceful solutions regarding Kurdish problem, Turkey has always refused saying that it will not negotiate with “terrorists”.

Since it was established in 1984, the PKK has been fighting the Turkish state, which still denies the constitutional existence of Kurds, to establish a Kurdish state in the south east of the country, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.

But now its aim is the creation an autonomous Kurdish region and more cultural rights for ethnic Kurds who constitute the greatest minority in Turkey, numbering more than 20 million. A large Turkey's Kurdish community openly sympathise with the Kurdish PKK rebels.

PKK's demands included releasing PKK detainees, lifting the ban on education in Kurdish, paving the way for an autonomous democrat Kurdish system within Turkey, reducing pressure on the detained PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, stopping military action against the Kurdish party and recomposing the Turkish constitution.

Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority. It has allowed some cultural rights such as limited broadcasts in the Kurdish language and private Kurdish language courses with the prodding of the European Union, but Kurdish politicians say the measures fall short of their expectations.

The PKK is considered as 'terrorist' organization by Ankara and U.S. The PKK continues to be on the blacklist list in EU despite court ruling which overturned a decision to place the Kurdish rebel group PKK and its political wing on the European Union's terror list. 

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