World Bulletin/News Desk
Turkey has stationed armored vehicles and heavy weapons at its Syrian border after the government received a mandate last week from Parliament approving military operations in foreign countries. The move comes on the heels of a Syrian mortar attack which left five civilians dead in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa on Oct. 3.
Two-hundred and fifty tanks were deployed in locations in the Şanlıurfa, Mardin and Gaziantep provinces after the government ordered the military's readiness for a possible clash with Syrian forces. Artillery units were also sent to the region.
Turkey scrambled two fighter planes to the border with Syria on Friday after a Syrian military helicopter bombed the Syrian border town of Azmarin, Reuters reported, citing an unnamed witness.
The deployment seeks to tighten security at the border with Syria, prevent infiltration by members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and to represent a timely response to aggression from Syria that may be seen as attempting to drag Turkey into a full-scale war. Currently, the Turkish government has indicated no plans for an incursion into the conflict-hit country.
The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have bolstered their presence along the 900-kilometer border with Syria in recent days and have been responding in kind to gunfire and shelling spilling across from the south, where Assad's forces have been battling opponents who control swathes of territory in the region. Last week, after deadly cross-border shelling, Ankara warned Assad that it will respond to each shell or mortar round that hits Turkish soil. Due to the largely flat terrain on the Turkish-Syrian border, the Land Forces Command has a larger share of responsibility in securing the border.
Air bases in Diyarbakır and Malatya are also on alert. Maintenance work at the Diyarbakır military airport was completed, allowing 15 F-16 airplanes sent from Çanakkale, Konya and Amasya to land at the airport with no complications on Wednesday. Military sources say these jets were sent in case of an attack by Syria. The number of military jets sent so far to the 2nd Air Force Command in Diyarbakır has risen to 55.
Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel vowed on Wednesday to give a “harsher response” to Syria if shelling from the neighboring country continues to spill over the border. Özel said the Turkish military had instantly launched retaliatory strikes after the Syrian shell struck Akçakale. "We responded, but if it continues we will respond with greater force," Özel said of the Syrian attack. He added that the Syrian military has suffered serious damage from the Turkish strikes.
Accompanied by Land Forces Commander Gen. Hayri Kıvrıkoğlu and 2nd Army Commander Gen. Galip Mendi, Özel arrived in Akçakale early on Wednesday after inspecting troops in other towns along the Syrian border. Özel also paid a visit to offer his condolences to Ömer Timuçin, whose wife, three children and relative were killed in the Oct. 3 incident, in which a total of five were left dead and eight wounded.
Tensions remain high between Turkey and Syria over the cross-border attacks after a second shell landed in Turkey's Hatay province on Oct. 9. Although Turkey has responded to Syrian aggression with retaliatory artillery fire, no casualties have been reported on the Syrian side apart from one injury. The incident represents the most serious cross-border escalation of the 18-month uprising in Syria.