BEIRUT >> Turkey warned Syria today to keep its forces away from the countries’ troubled border or risk an armed response — a furious reply to the downing of a Turkish military plane last week by the Damascus regime.
NATO backed up Turkey and condemned Syria for shooting down the plane but stopped short of threatening military action, reflecting its reluctance to get involved in a conflict that could ignite a broader war.
Near the capital of Damascus, meanwhile, Syria’s elite Republican Guard forces battled rebels in some of the most intense fighting involving the special forces since the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime began in March 2011, according to activists.
More than 14,000 people have been killed in the last 15 months. Despite global outrage over the crackdown by the Assad regime, the international response has been focused entirely on diplomacy and sanctions, not intervention, as the violence escalates.
In a speech to parliament, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Syria shot down the unarmed reconnaissance plane in international airspace without warning in a “deliberate” and “hostile” act.
“Any military element that approaches the Turkish border from Syria and poses a security risk and danger will be regarded as a threat and treated as a military target,” Erdogan said.
He said border violations in the region were not uncommon and Syrian helicopters had violated Turkish airspace five times recently without a Turkish response. The two countries share a 566-mile frontier.