Last Updated: Fri Oct 12, 2012 22:52 pm (KSA) 19:52 pm (GMT)

Death toll mounts as Turkey scrambles jet after Syrian helicopter nears border

Turkish tanks take position near the border with Syria at Suruc in Sanliurfa. (AFP)
Turkish tanks take position near the border with Syria at Suruc in Sanliurfa. (AFP)

Death toll mounted across Syria as Turkey scrambled a fighter jet on Friday after a Syrian helicopter shelled the Syrian town of Azmarin near their common border, an official told AFP.

“The fighter jet took off from Diyarbakir base in the southeast after (Syrian) regime forces sent a helicopter to shell Azmarin which was seized by rebel forces,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Relations between one-time allies Turkey and Syria have steadily deteriorated since a popular uprising started against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in March 2011.

On Wednesday, Turkey scrambled jets to force a Syrian plane on its way from Moscow to Damascus to land inside Turkey, according to AFP.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the plane’s cargo included military equipment and ammunition for the Syrian regime, charges denied by Damascus.

Russia’s foreign minister said on Friday that the the Syrian plane that was forced to land in Turkey was legally carrying Russian radar parts for Syria.

Sergey Lavrov insisted Friday the shipment complied with international law. He said the plane carried no weapons and that the “electric equipment for radars” of was a legitimate cargo, according to The Associated Press.

Lavrov added, however, that the cargo was of “dual purpose,” meaning it could have civilian and military applications. He said the Russian company that sent it to Syria will demand that Turkey return it.

Tensions between the Syria and Turkey reached a new high last week when mortars fired from Syria killed five Turkish nationals in a Turkish border village and Ankara began firing artillery into Syria in retaliation.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu survived an opposition censure motion in parliament on Friday for allegedly bringing Turkey to the brink of war with Syria.

The ruling Justice and Development Party used its almost 60 percent majority in the 550-seat parliament to defeat the motion by the Republican Peoples Party.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which called the attack on Akcakale a flagrant breach of international law, praised Turkey’s restraint on Oct. 9 and assured the Turkish government of the alliance’s military support if its attacked.

In an interview published in the Turkish newspaper Aydinlik Friday, Assad denied Turkish accusations that Syria was aiding militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, that is fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s southeast, according to Bloomberg.

About 500 Syrian officers, including 40 generals, and 500 soldiers have deserted to Turkey since fighting broke out between rebels and government forces in March 2011, a Foreign Ministry official said.

Turkey shelters 99,500 refugees in camps along the border, and another 14,000 Syrians are waiting to cross into the country.

Meanwhile, Syrian rebels have gone on the offensive killing more than 100 soldiers in two days, a watchdog said Friday. As many as 109 people have been killed by the fire of Syrian forces across the country on Friday.

Fourteen soldiers died in an attack on an army post in the southern province of Deraa on Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, a day after the army suffered 92 losses, the highest daily total for the military of the 19-month conflict.

With an average of 20 deaths per day, the army has lost about 10,000 soldiers, with at least an equal number wounded, in the conflict, a military hospital official told AFP.

In August, the same source reported more than 8,000 deaths.

The Britain-based Observatory said that Thursday had marked one of the deadliest days of fighting since an anti-regime revolt erupted in March last year, with at least 240 people killed across the country, including the 92 soldiers, 67 rebel fighters and 81 civilians.

Of the soldiers killed on Thursday, 36 died in fighting in Idlib province, where many of the fiercest clashes have taken place over the past three months, it said.

In violence on Friday, regime warplanes attacked two buildings in the Idlib town of Maaret al-Numan, where intense fighting has raged since rebels overran it on Tuesday after a fierce 48-hour gun-battle, the watchdog said.

Despite the ongoing violence, anti-regime demonstrations were held in provinces across Syria after the weekly Muslim prayers.

In the embattled city of Aleppo, regime forces opened fire on protesters in the district of Halab al-Jadida, wounding a number of demonstrators, according to the Observatory.

In Derbassiyeh, a town on the border with Turkey, dozens of clapping children followed by women led a procession of hundreds waving Kurdish and Syrian revolutionary flags and chanting: “The people want the fall of the regime.”

According to Observatory figures, more than 32,000 people have died in Syria since the revolt erupted on March 15, 2012.

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