Turkish Army Stages Drills at Syrian Border


Turkey's army has begun staging drills at the Syrian border following warnings that it would follow Kurdish rebels across the frontier, the Anatolia news agency reported Friday.

Turkish tanks accompanied by armoured personnel carriers and surface-to-air missile defences are deployed at the Oncupinar crossing in southeastern Kilis province for the drills, the report said, adding that they would continue periodically.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week that it was a "given" that Turkish troops would pursue Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants inside Syria.

Turkish media said the drills were a show of force against Damascus, which Ankara accuses of giving a free hand to allow Syrian Kurds to launch cross-border attacks in Turkey.

The relationship between Ankara and Damascus hit an all-time low after a Turkish Phantom jet was brought down by Syrian fire on June 22, killing its two pilots and leading Ankara to brand Damascus a "hostile" opponent.

The Syrian regime counters Turkish accusations with claims that Turkey is supporting "terrorists" to bring the regime down, referring to the Free Syrian Army of defecting soldiers, currently based on Turkish soil near the border.

Turkey is also home to more than 45,000 Syrian refugees and supports the main opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), also based in Turkey.

The jet shoot-down, still under investigation, triggered a massive military build-up all along the 900-kilometre (550-mile) border, where large numbers of Turkish tanks, weapons, missile batteries and troops are deployed.

Last week, Turkish media reported that several areas had fallen into the hands of Syrian fighters affiliated with the PKK, publishing pictures of taunting rebel flags hanging from buildings right across the border.

The PKK, considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey and much of the international community, took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.

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