Syria-Turkey tensions soar
Human Rights Watch urges military regime to stop using cluster bombs
Syria banned Turkish flights from its airspace yesterday and Turkey made a similar tit-for-tat move, as regime forces counter-attacked rebels to regain territory lost in northern battlegrounds.
The reprisal for Turkey confiscating a cargo of what Russia said was radar equipment being flown from Moscow to Damascus came despite a flurry of diplomacy intended to calm soaring tensions between the neighbours.
Syria accuses Turkey of channelling arms from Gulf Arab states to rebels fighting its troops, who have been under mounting pressure across large swathes of the north, including in second city Aleppo.
The Syrian flight ban went into force from midnight (2100 GMT Saturday) “in accordance with the principle of reciprocity”, Sana state news agency said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said later that Ankara had already banned Syrian civilian flights from its airspace.
“Yesterday (Saturday) we closed our airspace to Syrian civilian flights as we have previously done for Syrian military flights,” he said.
“As we have established that civilian flights were being misused by the Syrian defence ministry to transport military material, we sent a note yesterday to the Syrian side,” Davutoglu said.
Ankara has since repeatedly hit back for cross-border fire, prompting growing UN concern and a flurry of diplomatic contacts.
Tensions from the conflict are also being felt in neighbouring Lebanon, and hundreds of supporters of the Assad regime staged a rally in Beirut yesterday to thank Russia and China for their backing.
On the battlefield, the military used fighter jets to bombard Maaret al-Numan, captured by the rebel Free Syrian Army earlier in the week, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
To the east, troops tried to block a new rebel assault on Wadi Deif army base – the largest in Idlib province, much of which is in rebel hands. Battles erupted nearby as warplanes bombarded the area, said the Observatory.
A military official and the Observatory said troops also recaptured Aleppo’s Umayyad mosque two days after rebels claimed control of the site, an important foothold they were hoping to take before surrounding the regime-held citadel.
There was shellfire and rifle shots echoed around the heavily damaged courtyard of the mosque with increasing frequency as regime forces apparently advanced on the mosque, an AFP corres-pondent reported.
In Damascus, two explosions hit the district of Mazzeh yesterday, the Observatory said, adding that one targeted the car of a pro-regime lawyer who was critically wounded.
Troops took back control of a military base in Atibah, a day after rebels had seized it.
Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, urged Syria’s military to stop using cluster bombs, weapons that can contain up to 650 submunitions, which are sprayed over a large area before exploding.
“Syria’s disregard for its civilian population is all too evident in its air campaign, which now apparently includes dropping these deadly cluster bombs into populated areas,” said Steve Goose, arms director at the group.