A general in the rebel Free Syria Army said on Friday that Syrian government forces had amassed around 170 tanks north of the city Aleppo, near the Turkish border, but there was no independent confirmation of the report.
General Mustafa al-Sheikh, head of the Higher Military Council, an association of senior officers who defected from President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, said the tanks had assembled at the Infantry School near the village of Musalmieh northeast of the city of Aleppo, 30 kms (19 miles) from the Turkish border.
“The tanks are now at the Infantry School. They’re either preparing to move to the border to counter the Turkish deployment or attack the rebellious (Syrian) towns and villages in and around the border zone north of Aleppo,” Sheikh told Reuters by telephone from the border.
He said the tanks were mostly from the 17th Mechanized Division.
Turkey deployed air defense weaponry along its border with Syria on Thursday, following Syria’s downing of a Turkish warlplane over the Mediterranean on Friday.
“I can confirm there are troops being deployed along the border in Hatay province. Turkey is taking precautions after its jet was shot down,” the official told Reuters news agency condition of anonymity.
He said he did not know how many troops or vehicles were being moved but said they were being stationed in the Yayladagi, Altinozu and Reyhanli border areas of Turkey’s southern Hatay province. He said anti-aircraft guns were being stationed along the border.
He could not confirm media reports of troop movements further east along the border in the Turkish provinces of Gaziantep and Sanliurfa.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday accused neighboring Syria of a “hostile act” and “heinous attack” in shooting down the army jet in international airspace without warning.
“We did not receive a single warning, note from Syria (regarding airspace violation)...They acted without (warning). This is a hostile act,” Erdogan told a parliamentary meeting, in which he called the Syrian fire a “heinous attack.”
Turkish warplane should not be mistaken for weakness, warning Turkey’s wrath was as strong as its friendship was valuable.
Turkey was totally in the right over Syria’s “downing of an unarmed reconnaissance jet in international air space” last week, Erdogan said in a speech to his ruling AK Party deputies in parliament.
Erdogan said that the Turkish Armed Forces’ rules of engagement have changed and they will respond to any violation on the Syrian border.
Turkey would not engage in war-mongering, but the attack on the reconnaissance jet, which was deliberately targeted, would not be left unanswered, Erdogan said.
The downing of the jet has aggravated tense ties between the two neighbors. Turkey has repeatedly called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down as 33,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey, fleeing a government crackdown on a popular uprising.