Turkey scrambles F-16 fighter jets to Syrian border
Turkish army says six jets were sent in three incidents, responding to approaching Syrian military helicopters; Turkey reinforces border with anti-aircraft guns.
Turkey's armed forces command said on Sunday it had scrambled a total of six F-16 fighter jets in three separate incidents responding to Syrian military helicopters approaching the border on Saturday, but there was no violation of Turkish airspace.
It said in a statement four of the jets had scrambled from Incirlik air base in southern Turkey in response to Syrian helicopters flying south of the Turkish province of Hatay, and two more F-16s took off from a base in Batman after Syrian helicopters were spotted close to the border south of the Turkish province of Mardin.
The military did not report that any direct confrontation had taken place. The jets were scrambled days after Turkey said it would treat any Syrian military unit approaching its border as a direct threat in response to the downing of a Turkish reconnaissance plane by Syrian forces on June 22.
Turkey has also reinforced its border with anti-aircraft guns and other weapons. The military said the helicopters flew as close as 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) to the Turkish border.
Earlier on Sunday, the Sunday Times reported that Russian technicians were involved in the downing of a Turkish fighter jet, quoting Middle Eastern diplomatic sources. According to the report, the decision to take the plane down was intended to signal NATO to stay out of the conflict in Syria.
However, on Wednesday the Turkish media quoted Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoebi saying that Assad's security forces may have mistaken the Turkish jet they shot down for an Israeli one.
Syrian opposition: almost 800 killed in past week
Syria's main opposition group said nearly 800 people have been killed in violence across the country in the past week which saw some of the bloodiest violence in the 16-month uprising against President Bashar Assad.
Opposition activists groups say more than 14,000 people have been killed in the 15-month-old uprising against Assad's authoritarian rule, or on average of about 900 a month. That would make last week's toll alone, tallied by the Syrian National Council (SNC), almost as high as the monthly average.
The mounting death toll has added urgency to the diplomatic efforts at an international conference over the weekend aimed at stopping the bloodshed.
The conference in Geneva on Saturday accepted U.N.-brokered plan calling for creation of a transitional national unity government in Syria. But at Russia's insistence, the compromise agreement left the door open to Assad being part of the interim administration. It could also include members of Assad's government and the opposition and other groups. It would oversee the drafting of a new constitution and elections.
The U.S.backed away from insisting that the plan should explicitly bar Assad from any role in a new government, hoping the concession would encourage Russia to put greater pressure on its longtime ally to end the violent crackdown on dissent.
U.S.Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted on Saturday that Assad would still have to go.