Mon, Oct 15, 2012 - Page 1 News List

Fighting rages as Damascus bans Turkish flights

AFP, DAMASCUS and BEIRUT

Fighting raged between troops and rebels in Syria as Damascus ratcheted up the tension with Ankara by banning all Turkish passenger flights from Syrian airspace from yesterday.

Rebels and activists said a Syrian regime warplane was shot down near Aleppo, while part of the embattled northern city’s historic Ummayad mosque was set ablaze in fighting as rebels attacks army positions inside, monitors said.

A car bomb blast near Damascus killed eight people, including a child and two women, in al-Nabak on the road to Homs Province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

As the fighting on the ground escalated, so too did the tension with Turkey.

Syria banned Turkish passenger flights from midnight on Saturday, state news agency SANA said, citing the foreign ministry.

The suspension came after Turkey and Syria engaged in sporadic cross-border shelling last week.

The decision, “in accordance with the principle of reciprocity,” was in retaliation for Turkey’s decision to stop Syrian civil aviation flights over its territory, SANA said.

The Turkish government has not announced a similar ban for Syrian civilian aircraft.

However, Turkish jets forced a Syrian passenger plane en route from Moscow to Damascus to make an emergency landing in Ankara on Wednesday on suspicion it was carrying weapons.

Both Damascus and Moscow denied the claim, and the plane was allowed on Friday to continue on its journey.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Syrian Air passenger plane had been carrying radar equipment that could have either civilian or military uses, and insisted that Moscow had violated no laws.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for reform of the UN Security Council to help resolve the crisis, after Russia and China have repeatedly used their veto powers to block resolutions condemning Syria.

“It’s time to change the structure of international institutions, starting with the UN Security Council,” Erdogan told reporters, calling for “wider, fairer and more effective representation.”

In Istanbul, Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu held talks on Syria with visiting Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Arabi, Turkish news agency Anatolia said.

In related developments, Human Rights Watch (HRW) yesterday accused the Syrian air force of using cluster bombs against rebels and in populated areas across the country.

“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 New York-based group.

“Cluster bombs have been comprehensively banned by most nations, and Syria should immediately stop all use of these indiscriminate weapons that continue to kill and maim for years,” he said in a statement.

HRW reported their increased use in the past week, notably in the Maaret al-Numan area, where the armed forces have been locked in combat with rebels for control of the highway linking Damascus to Aleppo.

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