Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told Syria to beware the wrath of Turkey after Friday’s shooting down of a warplane and said he had given orders to the armed forces to react to any threat approaching Turkish borders from Syria.
Erdogan’s warning to Syria reflected increased tensions not only on the Mediterranean coast, where the aircraft was shot down, but on a long common land border criss-crossed by rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Syria said on Sunday it had killed several “terrorists” infiltrating from Turkey.
In Syria itself, Damascus suburbs were gripped by the worst fighting the capital has seen since the uprising against al-Assad began 16 months ago. The city had long been seen as a bastion of support for the president.
Erdogan, who fell out bitterly with al-Assad after he dismissed his advice to allow democratic reform, said Turkey was no warmonger.
“Our rational response should not be perceived as weakness, our mild manners do not mean we are a tame lamb,” he said. “Everybody should know that Turkey’s wrath is just as strong and devastating as its friendship is valuable.”
NATO member states, summoned by Turkey to an urgent meeting in Brussels, condemned Syria over the incident that has resulted in the loss of two airmen. The cautious wording of a statement demonstrated the fear of Western powers as well as Turkey that armed intervention in Syria could stir a sectarian conflict, already simmering in Syria, across the region.
Erdogan said armed forces’ rules of engagement had been changed as a result of the attack, which Turkey says took place without warning in international air space.
“Every military element approaching Turkey from the Syrian border and representing a security risk and danger will be assessed as a military threat and will be treated as a military target,” he said.
Turkey hosts the rebel Free Syrian Army on its soil and accommodates more than 30,000 refugees — a number Erdogan fears could rise sharply as fighting spreads. Rebel soldiers move regularly across the border and defectors muster on Turkish soil.
Fighting has often moved very close to the frontier and could under the new rules of engagement draw Turkish military reaction, especially if Syrian forces pursue rebels.
Meanwhile, video published by activists recorded heavy gunfire and explosions. Blood pooled on a sidewalk in the suburb of Qudsiya and a thick blood trail led into a building where one casualty had been dragged. A naked man writhed, his body pierced by shrapnel.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported heavy fighting near the Republican Guard headquarters in Qudsiya, and in the suburbs of al-Hama and Mashrou’ Dumar, just 9km outside Damascus. It said security forces and armored vehicles stormed of Barzeh.
Samir al-Shami, an activist in Damascus, said tanks were also out on the streets of the suburbs and some activists reported that one tank had been blown up.