Four Turkish F-16s were scrambled from Incirlik Air Base and two from a base in Batman Sunday on three separate "incidents" in response to Syrian military helicopters "approaching the border," Reuters. -- But "there was no violation of Turkish airspace." -- RTÉ News reported that a dispute has emerged between France and Russia in the aftermath of Saturday's Geneva meeting on Syria presided over by Kofi Annan, with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius saying that a text agreed upon implied that President Bashar al-Assad would have to step down, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying the text did not imply that at all. -- Meanwhile, Beirut's Daily Star reported Turkey is strongly disputing a *Wall Street Journal* article according to which U.S. intelligence sources indicate that a Turkish warplane shot down on Jun. 22 by Syrian forces "was most likely hit while in Syrian airspace"; according to this source, the plane was probably downed in Syrian airspace by shore-based antiaircraft guns. -- "The plane's pilots are still missing and the U.S. officials said they believe the pilots perished." -- "According to the Wall Street Journal, some current and former U.S. officials have the belief that Turkey is testing Syria. The F-4 Phantom that was shot down by Syria typically carries surveillance equipment, though Turkey denies it was on a surveillance mission." -- The WSJ report suggests that factions inside the U.S. military are opposed to the aggressive policies of the Obama administration, which has resolved that the Bashar al-Assad regime must be overthrown. -- "It is now 'incumbent on Russia and China to show Assad the writing on the wall' and 'help force his departure.'" -- Accordingly, CNN broadcast an account dramatically redlining a map of the Syrian-Turkish border and presenting correspondent Ivan Watson saying that the scrambling of the Turkish jets indicated it that "they really are changing the rules of engagement when the Syrian military approaches that frontier," and the Sunday Times of London reported, on a very sketchy basis, that "Russian technicians were involved in the taking down of the Turkish fighter jet by the Syrian military last week" as a "a warning to NATO to stay out of the conflict," Haaretz reported. -- But Gulf News took a step back, and published a useful historical analysis by Joseph Kechichian, discussing a number of historical injustices against Syria in the 20th century to which Turkey has been a party. -- Ironically, ties between Syrian and Turkey had been thawing in the period 2004-2011, before the Arab Spring offered Turkey and its NATO allies and proxies an opportunity to attempt to overthrow the Bashar al-Assad regime....
TURK JETS SCRAMBLE AFTER SYRIA AIRCRAFT NEAR BORDER
July 1, 2012
ANKARA -- Turkey's armed forces command said on Sunday it had scrambled a total of six F-16 fighter jets in three separate incidents responding to Syrian military helicopters approaching the border on Saturday, but there was no violation of Turkish airspace.
It said in a statement four of the jets had scrambled from Incirlik air base in southern Turkey in response to Syrian helicopters flying south of the Turkish province of Hatay, and two more F-16s took off from a base in Batman after Syrian helicopters were spotted close to the border south of the Turkish province of Mardin.
(Reporting by Jon Hemming; Editing by Alison Williams)
TENSIONS SIMMER ON SYRIA-TURKEY BORDER
RTÉ News (Ireland)
July 1, 2012
Turkey's armed forces command said it had scrambled a total of six F-16 fighter jets in three separate incidents responding to Syrian military helicopters approaching the border yesterday.
However, there was no violation of Turkish airspace.
It said in a statement four of the jets had scrambled from Incirlik air base in southern Turkey in response to Syrian helicopters flying south of the Turkish province of Hatay.
Two more F-16s took off from a base in Batman after Syrian helicopters were spotted close to the border south of the Turkish province of Mardin.
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that a text agreed by members of the U.N. Security Council in Geneva on a political transition for Syria implied that President Bashar al-Assad would have to step down.
World powers agreed that a transitional government should be set up in Syria to end the conflict there, but they appeared at odds over what part Mr. Assad might play in the process.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the plan did not imply at all that Mr. Assad should step down as there were no preconditions excluding any group from the proposed national unity government.
Peace envoy Kofi Annan said after the talks the government should include members of Assad's administration and the Syrian opposition and that it should arrange free elections.
Mr. Fabius said a meeting on 6 July in Paris with more than 100 participants would aim to create a "united front" among all strands of the opposition to help put in place the Annan proposal.
Neither China nor Russia have agreed to attend the "Friends of Syria" conference.
France, along with Western and some Arab states, has been trying for months to increase the pressure on Damascus. It has been seeking to reach a compromise with Russia, a supporter of Mr. Assad, to allow tougher action by the Security Council and move towards a political transition.
In June, Paris proposed making Mr. Annan's existing peace plan for Syria obligatory by invoking the U.N.'s "Chapter 7" provision, which allows the Security Council to authorize actions ranging from sanctions to military intervention.
U.S. INTELLIGENCE SHEDS NEW LIGHT ON DOWNED TURKISH WARPLANE
Daily Star (Beirut)
July 1, 2012
BEIRUT -- U.S. intelligence indicates a Turkish warplane shot down by Syrian forces was most likely hit while in Syrian airspace, lending validation to Damascus' account and putting it at odds with Ankara's, the *Wall Street Journal* reported over the weekend.
According to AFP, Turkey's military reiterated Sunday that the jet fighter was in international airspace, and not inside Syria, as claimed in the newspaper report.
In its report Saturday, the Wall Street Journal said U.S. intelligence provided by American officials who spoke to the paper stated that the plane was likely taken down by shore-based antiaircraft guns.
Damascus said the plane was shot down by an antiaircraft battery with an effective range of about 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles).
The senior U.S. defense official who spoke to the American daily cautioned that much remains unknown about the incident, while a Turkish official said he was unaware of American doubts and maintained the Ankara’s position that a Syrian missile downed the plane in international airspace.
The downing of the warplane has increased tension in the region and led NATO to condemn the Syrian government's actions.
U.S. officials said antiaircraft fire would signify that the Turkish plane was flying low to the ground and slowly, though Syria said the jet was flying at around 770 kilometers an hour (480 miles an hour).
The plane's pilots are still missing and the U.S. officials said they believe the pilots perished.
According to the *Wall Street Journal*, some current and former U.S. officials have the belief that Turkey is testing Syria. The F-4 Phantom that was shot down by Syria typically carries surveillance equipment, though Turkey denies it was on a surveillance mission.
"You think that the airplane was there by mistake?" one former U.S. official said.
"These countries are all testing how fast they get picked up and how fast someone responds," a senior U.S. official told the paper.
"It’s part of training," the official added.
One U.S. military official said that the fact antiaircraft fire was used means a local commander on his own initiative decided to fire at the warplane as opposed to if the plane had been hit by a missile which would have indicated that Damascus had authorized the decision.
The Turkish army reiterated Sunday Anakar's earlier claims that one of its warplanes was brought down over international waters.
The Turkish F-4 Phantom "was downed over the eastern Mediterranean in international airspace . . . while it was flying solo and unarmed, and testing our existing radars' performance in the region," the army's general staff said in a statement posted on its website, reported AFP.
The Turkish army statement said the jet had violated Syrian airspace for "about five minutes."
Ankara has said that the jet was too far from Syrian territory to have been shot at by an antiaircraft gun.
TURKEY SENDS JETS TO SYRIAN BORDER
July 1, 2012
Turkey scrambled six fighter jets after military helicopters from Syria flew within 6.4 kilometers of its border, the Turkish government said, further escalating tensions in the region.
The F-16 jets were responding to three sincidents on Saturday, the statement said, although there had been no violation of Turkish airspace.
Last month, Syrian forces shot down a Turkish jet in the border area. Ankara responded by placing anti-aircraft guns along its border with Syria. The unarmed RF-4E reconnaissance jet was shot down 1.6 kilometers inside international airspace on June 22.
On Sunday, Syria's main opposition group said nearly 800 people have been killed in violence across the country over the past week, which saw some of the bloodiest violence since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began 16 months ago.
Khalil Al Haj Saleh, a member of the Local Coordination Committees activist network, said the 800 figure appears to be "realistic" in light of the past week's carnage.
Opposition activists groups say more than 14,000 people have been killed in the 15-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad's authoritarian rule, or on average of about 900 a month. That would make last week's toll alone, tallied by the Syrian National Council (SNC), almost as high as the monthly average.
The cross-border tensions and the mounting death toll have added urgency to the diplomatic efforts at an international conference over the weekend aimed at stopping the bloodshed.
SHOW ASSAD THE 'WRITING ON THE WALL'
The conference in Geneva on Saturday accepted U.N.-brokered plan calling for creation of a transitional national unity government in Syria. But at Russia's insistence, the compromise agreement left the door open to Assad being part of the interim administration. It could also include members of Assad's government and the opposition and other groups. It would oversee the drafting of a new constitution and elections.
The U.S. backed away from insisting that the plan should explicitly bar Assad from any role in a new government, hoping the concession would encourage Russia to put greater pressure on its longtime ally to end the violent crackdown on dissent. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted on Saturday that Assad would still have to go.
It is now "incumbent on Russia and China to show Assad the writing on the wall" and "help force his departure," she said. Russia and China have shielded Assad's regime from U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning the crackdown.
Syrian opposition groups rejected the U.N.-brokered plan. The SNC criticized it as too ambiguous, underlining the seemingly intractable nature of the conflict. The opposition called it a waste of time and vowed as they always do not to negotiate with Assad or members of his "murderous" regime.
"Every day I ask myself, do they not see how the Syrian people are being slaughtered?" veteran Syrian opposition figure Haitham Maleh asked. "It is a catastrophe. The country has been destroyed and they want us then to sit with the killer?"
Maleh described the agreement reached in Geneva as a waste of time and of "no value on the ground."
"The Syrian people are the ones who will decide the battle on the ground, not those sitting in Geneva or New York or anywhere else," he said by telephone from Cairo, where opposition groups are to meet Monday.
TURKEY SCRAMBLES JETS AS SYRIAN CHOPPERS NEAR BORDER
By Yesim Comert
July 1, 2012
http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/01/world/meast/turkey-syria-tensions/index.html (see link for video)
Turkey scrambled fighter jets three separate times Saturday as Syrian helicopters neared the border between the two countries, Turkey's military said Sunday.
The helicopters were in Syrian airspace, but were getting close to the border, the armed forces statement said.
The jets -- a total of six -- were scrambled twice out of Incirlik, and once out of Batman, it said.
The incident underscores rising tensions between the two nations in the wake of Syria's downing a Turkish F-4 Phantom jet on June 22.
Both Syria and Turkey acknowledged the plane strayed into Syrian airspace, but Turkey said the incursion was accidental and quickly corrected.
Turkey's National Security Council said last week the nation would act against "hostile action" by Syria. Turkey also bolstered its forces along the border.
Also, Turkish Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Erdogan said his country was changing its military rules of engagement and would treat a military approach toward its borders by Syria as a potential threat that "will be dealt with accordingly."
The downing of the jet drew sharp condemnation from NATO, but the alliance did not promise any action in response to the incident. Turkey did not invoke the NATO article calling for collective defense of members, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh has said.
A senior U.S. official said Turkey asked NATO members to study a range of ways a no-fly zone could potentially help the situation and ease threats. It was "not clear what, if anything, will be done," the official said last week.
A search for the pilots of the downed jet was ongoing. The wreckage of the plane has also not been located.
A man from the border village of Guvecci, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said Thursday military personnel and equipment had been arriving for the past two or three days. Turkish state television also reported air-defense systems and tanks were among the equipment.
RUSSIAN SPECIALISTS INVOLVED IN SYRIA INTERCEPTING TURKISH JET, SOURCES SAY
by Haaretz, Reuters, and the Associated Press
** Diplomatic sources talking to the Sunday Times say Syria shot down the Turkish plane to warn NATO not to intervene in the Syrian conflict. **
July 1, 2012
Russian technicians were involved in the taking down of the Turkish fighter jet by the Syrian military last week, the Sunday Times reported on Sunday.
Sourcing Middle Eastern diplomatic sources the Times reported that the decision to down the Turkish jet was intended to signal a warning to NATO to stay out of the conflict raging in Syria for over a year.
Russia supplied Syria with advanced anti-aircraft missile systems three years ago. It is believed that Russian specialists trained the Syrian forces to use them. According to diplomats that spoke with the *Sunday Times* some Russian specialists are still stationed at the missile battery control centers.
“We would not be surprised if these Russian experts, if they didn’t push the button, at least were beside the Syrian officers who did it,” an Israeli air force source told the British paper.
The unarmed reconnaissance jet had briefly entered Syrian airspace on June 22 as it approached land after patrolling the eastern Mediterranean, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said, but was warned by Turkish radar controllers and immediately left and turned again out to sea.
It then made another approach to land when it was shot down 13 miles off the coast in international airspace, he said, out of the reach of Syria's anti-aircraft guns.
"According to the data in our hands, it points to our plane being shot by a laser or heat-guided surface-to-air missile. The fact our plane was not given an early radar warning, suggests it was not a radar-guided missile," said Arinc.
Turkey shelters the rebel Free Syria Army (FSA) and hosts 32,000 Syrian refugees on its southeastern border with Syria, some 50 km (30 miles) from where the Turkish aircraft was shot down. But it denies providing arms for the insurgents.
Ankara requested a meeting of NATO's North Atlantic Council to discuss the incident, which it has branded an "act of aggression." Damascus said it shot the aircraft down in self-defense after it strayed into Syrian airspace.
The meeting is only the second time in NATO's 63-year history that member countries have convened under Article 4 of its charter, which provides for consultations when a member state feels its territorial integrity, political independence, or security is under threat.
"We may get a statement of solidarity with Turkey," a NATO official said.
Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was to make a statement around 11:30 a.m. (09:30 GMT) after the talks among NATO ambassadors at alliance headquarters in Brussels.
Analysts said Rasmussen's message was likely to be measured, reflecting Western reluctance to commit to any military action or anything that could trigger a regional sectarian war.
"There is very little appetite from the alliance to undertake what we call a discretionary war," said Clara Marina O'Donnell, a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Turkey's choice to seek consultation under Article 4, instead of asking for military help under the organization's collective defense provisions, known as Article 5, suggested Ankara was hoping to steer clear of inflaming the conflict.
"This is a signal from Turkey that they are not too keen to go down the military route at this stage. They are trying to de-escalate the situation," she said.
Turkey rejected assertions from Damascus that its forces had no option but to fire on the F-4 jet as it flew over Syrian waters close to the coast on Friday.
In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, Turkey condemned a "hostile act by the Syrian authorities against Turkey's national security," saying it posed "a serious threat to peace and security in the region."
Syria warned Turkey and NATO against retaliation. E.U. foreign ministers on Monday urged Turkey to show restraint, saying they would increase pressure on Assad.
THE SYRIAN-TURKISH ROLLERCOASTER
By Joseph A. Kechichian
July 1, 2012
BEIRUT -- Although Syrian-Turkish relations were somewhat strained throughout the 20th century, especially at the height of the Cold War, dramatic improvements were recorded after President Bashar Al Assad visited Ankara in January 2004, becoming the first Syrian leader to do so.
Yet, and in the aftermath of the March 2011 uprisings, relations between the two countries soured once again as previous suspicions resurfaced. Disagreements over Kurdish irredentism, water disputes, and territorial claims all mobilized public opinion in both countries.
Still, with a common land border stretching over 900 kilometres, the determinant factor that affected both countries was geography, the source of epochal clashes that pitted Turks and Arabs for centuries.
In the 20th century, and after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Damascus suffered under French occupation. Betrayed by the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement between France and Britain, Syrian possessions were literally dismembered. A permanent wedge was created with the nascent Republic of Turkey, whose territorial losses were nevertheless partially redeemed when Alexandretta, known as Iskenderun in Turkish, was cavalierly annexed in 1938. The city, part of the Hatay Province, stood as a sore point for Damascus that never accepted this mutilation just as it never accepted the loss of the Bekaa Valley to Lebanon.
Burdened with such a legacy, and after independence in 1946, Syria and Turkey confronted a series of disputes, including the open support extended to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). For Ankara as for most Western powers, the PKK was a terrorist organisation, though Damascus perceived it as a liberation movement worthy of assistance. Successive Syrian governments manipulated the Kurdish Question over the years, but President Hafiz Al Assad expelled its most famous guerilla leader in 1998, Abdullah Öcalan, as he reassessed his country’s regional posture. To be sure, Ankara condemned Damascus for supporting Kurdish irredentism, but looked favorably on the critical expulsion that allowed it to track down Öcalan in Kenya a few months later.
Equally important, the two countries were involved in significant water and electricity quarrels, which were heightened after Ankara approved its Southeastern Anatolia Project that encouraged Turkish development throughout Anatolia at the expense of Syrians across the border. The project, which concentrated on the construction of 22 dams and 19 power plants in the basins of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, diverted significant water resources from Syria. Both Syria and Iraq demanded more water to be released from these dams for their own agricultural needs but Turkey refused. The snub pushed Damascus to encourage PKK activities in the region, whose sabotage work damaged several dams and canals. A number of engineers working at the dams were killed though production continued unabated.
Of course, and notwithstanding the thawing of ties between 2004 and 2011, Arab nationalists neither forgot nor condoned what former colonial rulers did to their country. Importantly, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan saw an opportunity to improve Turkish-Syrian bilateral relations after the 2003 War for Iraq -- when Ankara kept its military cooperation with the United States to a minimum -- by demonstrating that he could act independently. Al Assad reciprocated and welcomed Erdogan’s 2008 efforts to act as a go-between between Syria and Israel to reactivate the moribund peace talks between the two antagonists. No progress were achieved on that score, especially after Turkish-Israeli ties soured when Erdogan blasted Israeli leaders for launching a merciless attack on the Gaza Strip in late 2008. Tensions rose in May 2010, when Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish passengers and wounded dozens, on ships trying to break the Gaza blockade.
Amazingly, Syria and Turkey held unprecedented three-day-long military manoeuvres in April 2009 to further improve their expanding cooperation, though the 2011 uprising essentially put an end to all such measures. Instead, Ankara sheltered a growing number of Syrian refugees on its territory, with the Turkish prime minister describing Syrian military responses to the daily demonstrations as “savagery.” Although Erdogan previously called on Al Assad to leave office, no such declarations were made in recent months, even if Turkey suspended all of its trade relations and was considering cutting back its electricity feed to Syria. With the deployment of missile batteries along its border with Syria, Turkey was creating a “security corridor,” which could easily escalate into a full-fledged confrontation once international backing was secured. The mid-2000 thaw was, once again, replaced with frosty rhetoric.
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