Turkish troops and military vehicles deployed towards the border with Syria yesterday as a precaution after Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan gave orders to react to any Syrian threat approaching the frontier.
Erdogan, who has given shelter in the border area to rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, announced the new rules of engagement for Turkish troops on the border after Syrian air defences shot down a Turkish warplane on Friday last week.
“I can confirm there are troops being deployed along the border in Hatay Province. Turkey is taking precautions after its jet was shot down,” a Turkish official said on 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 also being stationed along the border.
A military convoy of vehicles including anti-aircraft missile launchers from the 5th Mechanized Armored Brigade left a base in the southeastern city of Gaziantep yesterday and traveled to neighboring Kilis Province on the border, video from the Turkish Dogan news agency showed.
Roads were closed to traffic as the convoy, escorted by police cars, passed by.
Another convoy of about 30 military vehicles, including trucks loaded with missile batteries, left Turkey’s coastal town of Iskenderun on Wednesday and deployed near the Syrian border 50km away, Turkish news agencies said.
Turkish television film showed the column moving on Wednesday, escorted by police cars, along a narrow highway leading out of the town, the main port of Turkey’s Hatay province. It included rocket launchers on transporters, anti-aircraft artillery and military ambulances.
Erdogan said any military element moving towards the Turkish border and deemed threatening would be declared a military target. The preponderance of air defence weapons in the convoy suggested Turkey was preparing for any possible approach by Syrian helicopters or warplanes.
In other developments, peace envoy Kofi Annan is pushing a plan for an interim government for Syria to include representatives of both sides in the conflict ahead of an international conference tomorrow, diplomats said.
The weekend meeting in Geneva, which was agreed only after wrangling between Moscow and Washington over both the agenda and the guest list, is to be attended by some regional governments, but not by rival Middle East heavywights Iran and Saudi Arabia, diplomats said.
Annan’s proposed interim authority would exclude officials whose presence might jeopardize the transition “or undermine efforts to bring reconciliation,” according to a summary given by one UN diplomat.
The major powers — the US, Britain, France, China and Russia — generally back the plan that will be discussed at a meeting of foreign ministers Annan has convened in Geneva, the diplomats said.
“The language of Annan’s plan suggests that Assad could be excluded, but also that certain opposition figures could be ruled out,” said a second UN diplomat, while stressing that there was nothing there that automatically excluded him.
However, Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said there was no guarantee that Annan’s document would be agreed to in Geneva.
Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian National Council yesterday said it would not join any interim government until al-Assad quits.