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Hosting Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the White House’s Rose Garden yesterday, President Barack Obama requested a standing Marine to open an umbrella and protect his head from the light rain that was falling.

However, according to Marine Corps regulations, not even the President of the United States can request a Marine to carry an umbrella without the express permission of the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

The Marine Corp Manual, which is the bible for all soldiers serving, specifically states that a soldier’s uniform dress code does not allow the carrying of an umbrella and “no officer or official shall issue instructions which conflict with, alter, or amend any provision without the approval of the Commandant of the Marine Corps”.

Indeed, male Marines are informed never to carry an umbrella from the earliest phases of training.

Regulation MCO P1020.34F of the Marine Corps Uniform Regulations chapter 3, rules out any use or carrying of an umbrella while a Marine is in uniform.

However, female Marines “may carry an all-black, plain standard or collapsible umbrella at their option during inclement weather with the service and dress uniforms. It will be carried in the left hand so that the hand salute can be properly rendered”.

During the press conference, President Barack Obama dodged questions about the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups, shifted responsibility for the Benghazi attack to Congress, and said he offers no apologies for the Department of Justice’s secret seizure of reporter’s phone records in search of a classified intelligence leak.

Hosting Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Rose Garden, President Barack Obama requested a standing Marine to open an umbrella and protect his head from the light rain

Hosting Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Rose Garden, President Barack Obama requested a standing Marine to open an umbrella and protect his head from the light rain

In a rain-soaked Rose Garden press conference originally intended to be a victory lap for the United States’ relationship with Turkey, Barack Obama stood alongside Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and fielded questions which quickly shifted to the trio of scandals that are engulfing his administration.

Addressing the Benghazi fallout pre-emptively before Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke, Barack Obama said that “at my direction, we’ve been taking a series of steps that were recommended by the review board”.

He spoke of various measures he was recommending, to “learn the lessons of Benghazi”. But he referred to the murders of four Americans there as an “incident”, not a terror attack.

The president said: “That’s why, at my direction, we’ve been taking a series of steps that were recommended by the review board after the incident. We’re continuing to review our security at high-threat diplomatic posts, including the size and nature of our presence; improving training for those headed to dangerous posts; increasing intelligence and warning capabilities.

“And I’ve directed the Defense Department to ensure that our military can respond lightning quick in times of crisis.”

His remarks focused on “properly funding” the State Department and Pentagon-run security at diplomatic posts, shifting the burden to Congress to “provide resources and new authorities so that we can implement all the recommendations of the Accountability Review Board which issued a report last month”.

Barack Obama said: “We’re going to need Congress’s help in terms of increasing the number of our Marine Corps Guard who protect our embassies.

“We’re not going to be able to do this alone.”

“’We need Congress.”

The review board is under fire for failing to interview high-level Obama administration figures, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Interviewing Clinton, Republicans on Capitol Hill have said, would have provided insights into who was accountable for lapses in security that left the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya vulnerable to attack.

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Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized to Turkey for “any errors that could have led to loss of life” during the 2010 commando raid on an aid flotilla that tried to breach the Gaza blockade.

Benjamin Netanyahu also agreed with Turkey’s PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan to compensate the families of the nine activists who were killed.

Israel’s prime minister had previously only expressed regret for the deaths.

The deal was brokered by US President Barack Obama during his visit to Israel.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office said he had accepted the apology, “in the name of the Turkish people”.

In the past, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has always given two conditions for restoring bilateral relations with Israel – an apology and compensation for victims’ families.

Nine people were killed on board the Turkish aid ship, Mavi Marmara, when it was boarded by Israeli commandos while trying to transport aid supplies to Gaza in May 2010 in spite of an Israeli naval blockade.

The Israeli government admitted mistakes were made in intelligence-gathering and planning, but insisted its commandos used lethal force because activists had attacked them.

The activists said the troops had opened fire as soon as they boarded the vessel, which was in international waters at the time.

The incident provoked an international outcry and led to a major deterioration in relations between Turkey and Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized to Turkey for "any errors that could have led to loss of life" during the 2010 commando raid on an aid flotilla that tried to breach the Gaza blockade

Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized to Turkey for “any errors that could have led to loss of life” during the 2010 commando raid on an aid flotilla that tried to breach the Gaza blockade

Before departing for Jordan on Friday afternoon, Barack Obama revealed that Benjamin Netanyahu and Recep Tayyip Erdogan had just spoken by telephone.

“The United States deeply values our close partnerships with both Turkey and Israel, and we attach great importance to the restoration of positive relations between them in order to advance regional peace and security,” President Barack Obama said in a statement released by the White House.

A statement issued by Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said that in the telephone conversation with Recep Tayyip Erdogan he had expressed regret over the deterioration in bilateral ties and noted his “commitment to working out the disagreements in order to advance peace and regional stability”.

“The prime minister made it clear that the tragic results regarding the Mavi Marmara were unintentional and that Israel expresses regret over injuries and loss of life,” it added.

“In light of the Israeli investigation into the incident, which pointed out several operational errors, Prime Minister Netanyahu apologized to the Turkish people for any errors that could have led to loss of life and agreed to complete the agreement on compensation.”

The two leaders had also agreed to continue to work on improving the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian Territories, the statement said.

A statement from Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office said the two prime ministers had agreed on making arrangements for compensation for families of the dead activists.

“Erdogan told Benjamin Netanyahu that he valued centuries-long strong friendship and co-operation between the Turkish and Jewish nations,” it added.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s change of heart is a clear indication of the diplomatic clout that the US still wields with its two key allies in a turbulent region.

The prime minister’s call to his Turkish counterpart was apparently made from a trailer at Tel Aviv airport while Air Force One sat on the ground waiting to depart.

The unglamorous setting and the last-minute nature of the call suggests the deal may not have been easy to broker.

Israeli officials said the apology had become possible after Recep Tayyip Erdogan qualified earlier comments about Zionism in an interview with a Danish newspaper.

Benjamin Netanyahu expressed “appreciation” for the comments, his office said.

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called the decision to apologize a “serious error”, Israeli news site Walla reported.

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Kurdish rebels’ leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is now jailed in Turkey, has called for a truce after 30 years of war.

Abdullah Ocalan also urged his fighters to withdraw from Turkey, in a message read out to cheers during Kurdish New Year celebrations in the city of Diyarbakir.

The Turkish government cautiously welcomed the call, which follows months of talks between the PKK and Turkey.

More than 40,000 people have died in the 30-year fight for an ethnic Kurdish homeland in Turkey’s south-east.

Hundreds of thousands of people were present in Diyarbarkir to hear Abdullah Ocalan’s message.

“The language spoken is that of peace. We should see the implementation,” Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler told the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Several previous ceasefire attempts between the two sides have failed.

However, the announcement is potentially an important step towards ending the 30-year long conflict between Kurdish rebels and the Turkish state.

This time, Abdullah Ocalan and Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan – the two key figures involved – are talking via intermediaries. But the real test of the announcement will be in its implementation.

Abdullah Ocalan is still the final decision-maker among the Kurds, despite the 14 years he has spent in jail. He is serving a life sentence for treason.

PKK chief Abdullah Ocalan calls for ceasefire after 30 years of war with Turkey

PKK chief Abdullah Ocalan calls for ceasefire after 30 years of war with Turkey

The announcement was read out in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in Kurdish and in Turkish.

“We have reached the point where weapons should be silent and ideas and politics should speak. A new phase in our struggle is beginning,” Abdullah Ocalan’s message said.

“Now a door is opening to a phase where we are moving from armed resistance to an era of democratic political struggle.

“Now it is time for our armed units to move across the border [to northern Iraq]. This is not an end but a new beginning. This is not abandoning the struggle, but a start to a different struggle.”

It is not immediately clear when this withdrawal will take place – or whether the PKK will ultimately choose to disarm.

Abdullah Ocalan had told Kurdish politicians who visited him earlier this week at his prison on the island of Imrali that his declaration would be “historic”.

In February the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) leader, who has been in Turkish custody since his capture in Kenya in 1999, called for prisoners to be released by both sides.

The PKK freed eight Turkish soldiers and officials it had held captive in northern Iraq for up to two years.

The PKK launched its armed campaign in 1984 and is regarded by Turkey, the US and EU as a terrorist organization. Last year saw some of the heaviest fighting in decades.

The organization rolled back on its demands for an independent Kurdish state in the 1990s, calling instead for more autonomy.

Reports say the PKK wish list now includes greater constitutional and linguistic rights for Kurds, as well as an easing of pressure on Kurdish activists.

The government has also not dismissed speculation that Abdullah Ocalan could be moved to house arrest.

On the eve of the truce call, Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned a number of blasts in the capital blamed on a left-wing group which opposes the talks with the PKK. He promised to push ahead with “extremely critical and sensitive” peace efforts, which have been going on since October.

Abdullah Demirbas, a district mayor in Diyarbakir, told Reuters news agency there would be more attempts to sabotage talks, but this was a last chance for peace.

“The PKK, Ocalan and the government must be brave… There is massive social support for this process.”

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been heavily criticized by the US, Israel and the UN for branding Zionism a “crime against humanity”.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a UN forum this week: “As with Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it is inevitable that Islamophobia be considered a crime against humanity.”

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu called the comments “dark and mendacious”.

New US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to raise the issue when he meets Turkey’s leaders on Friday.

John Kerry is in Ankara for talks on the crisis in Syria.

But his visit has been overshadowed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments, comparing Zionism with fascism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, at a meeting of the UN Alliance of Civilizations Forum in Vienna earlier this week.

His words drew strong condemnation from Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, which called them “a dark and mendacious statement the likes of which we thought had passed from the world”.

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been heavily criticized by the US, Israel and the UN for branding Zionism a crime against humanity

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been heavily criticized by the US, Israel and the UN for branding Zionism a crime against humanity

In the US, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said “the characterization of Zionism as a crime against humanity… is offensive and wrong”.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office said he heard Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s speech through an interpreter, and called it “unfortunate that such hurtful and divisive comments were uttered at a meeting being held under the theme of responsible leadership”.

Relations between Israel and Turkey have deteriorated since May 2010 when nine Turkish activists aboard a flotilla of aid ships trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza were killed in clashes with Israeli troops.

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Tens of thousands of Kurds have attended the funerals in Diyarbakir, Turkey, of three female Kurdish activists shot dead in Paris last week.

Crowds chanted as the coffins of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) members Sakine Cansiz, Fidan Dogan and Leyla Saylemez were carried through the city streets to a parade ground where the funerals were held.

There was tight security at the event.

No-one has been arrested for the crime and the motive is unclear.

But a prominent Kurdish politician said the killings would not deter those seeking an end to the Kurdish conflict.

The chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, Selahattin Demirtas, told the crowd: “We say now is the time for peace.

“We shout this out in front of the bodies of our dead. Don’t let our children die any more. We can stop this bloodshed by talking.”

“If the process is to advance with confidence, these murders must be a turning point.”

Tens of thousands of Kurds have attended the funerals in Diyarbakir, Turkey, of three female Kurdish activists shot dead in Paris last week

Tens of thousands of Kurds have attended the funerals in Diyarbakir, Turkey, of three female Kurdish activists shot dead in Paris last week

No group has said it killed the women, who French police say were subject to an execution-style shooting. Many Kurds blame elements of the state.

There were calls for revenge as the coffins, draped in the red, green and yellow Kurdish flag, made their way through the crowds in the south-eastern Turkish city.

Some women chanted “Fighting makes you free”, and other pro-PKK slogans, as they followed the funeral procession.

But many female mourners were wearing white scarves, a symbol of peace.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had appealed for calm and suggested the deaths may have been intended to sabotage peace efforts.

Officials have been in talks with the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in an effort to put an end to the group’s armed campaign.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also said his government will continue anti-PKK operations until the Kurdish militants lay down their arms.

On Wednesday, Turkish jets reportedly bombed Kurdish targets in northern Iraq for a third consecutive day.

Last year saw some of the heaviest fighting with the PKK in decades. Since the conflict began, more than 40,000 people have been killed.

The group, regarded by Turkey, the US and EU as a terrorist organization, launched an armed campaign for an ethnic Kurdish homeland in south-east Turkey in 1984.

Turkish security forces were put on alert ahead of possible demonstrations by the Kurdish minority, but only minor clashes were reported by witnesses.

Police helicopters were in evidence over the city, which is seen as the heart of the Kurdish community and culture in Turkey.

After the ceremony the women’s bodies were to be taken to their home villages for burial.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on French President Francois Hollande to explain why he previously met one of the Kurdish activists shot dead in Paris on Thursday.

One of the three women killed was Sakine Cansiz – a co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – a group proscribed by the European Union.

President Francois Hollande has said that he and other politicians had regularly met one of the women, without saying which one.

Turkey has fought the PKK for 25 years.

Some 40,000 people have died, but the Paris shootings came as Ankara sought peace talks with the group.

Thousands demonstrated in central Paris on Saturday to demand action over the deaths of the activists who were found shot dead at the Kurdish information centre in Paris on Thursday. According to French media they had been shot in the head or neck.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on French President Francois Hollande to explain why he previously met one of the Kurdish activists shot dead in Paris on Thursday

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on French President Francois Hollande to explain why he previously met one of the Kurdish activists shot dead in Paris on Thursday

At a meeting in Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Francois Hollande should “immediately disclose” why he met members of “this terrorist organization, what was discussed, to what end he was in communication with these terrorists”.

“How can you routinely meet with members of an organization labeled a terrorist group by the European Union and being sought by Interpol? What kind of politics is this?” he added.

Sakine Cansiz, who was detained and tortured in Turkey in the 1980s, is said to be close to the jailed PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

A second woman has been named as Fidan Dogan, 32, who worked in the information centre. She was also the Paris representative of the Brussels-based Kurdistan National Congress.

The third, named as Leyla Soylemez, was a young activist.

The PKK took up arms in 1984, demanding greater autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds, who are thought to comprise up to 20% of the population.

It is regarded by Turkey, the US and European Union as a terrorist organization, because of its attacks on Turkish security forces and civilians.

In 2012 it stepped up its attacks, leading to the fiercest fighting in decades, but violence has subsided in recent months.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested the killings had been designed to sabotage peace talks between Turkey and the PKK.

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General Ismail Hakki Karadayi, former Turkish army chief, has been detained over a military intervention that ousted a pro-Islamist government in 1997.

Ismail Hakki Karadayi was detained at his home in Istanbul and taken to the capital, Ankara, for questioning.

He is suspected of helping what became known as the post-modern coup, as no soldiers were involved.

Former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan was forced to resign in 1997, being replaced by a civilian government.

General Ismail Hakki Karadayi, former Turkish army chief, has been detained over a military intervention that ousted a pro-Islamist government in 1997

General Ismail Hakki Karadayi, former Turkish army chief, has been detained over a military intervention that ousted a pro-Islamist government in 1997

In May, another six retired generals linked with Necmettin Erbakan’s removal from power were charged.

Separately, investigations are continuing into allegations of attempted coups by the military.

Turkey’s military has long seen itself as the guarantor of the country’s secular constitution, analysts say.

It staged three coups between 1960 and 1980 and has a history of tension with the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A Turkish court sentenced three former army generals to 20 years in jail each in September for plotting another coup. Nearly 330 officers were convicted of involvement in the plot.

They were accused of plotting to bomb mosques and trying to trigger a war with Greece in order to justify a military coup against the elected government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2003.

International media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists has accused Turkey of waging “one of the world’s biggest anti-press campaigns in recent history”.

The CPJ says it has identified 61 journalists imprisoned because of their work – more than in any other country in the world.

Those detained face charges including terrorism and denigrating Turkishness.

Turkey claims most of the detainees are being held for crimes that have nothing to do with journalism.

It described that CPJ’s claims as exaggerated.

But the organization’s director, Joel Simon, said Turkey’s tendency to equate critical journalism with terrorism was not justified by its security concerns.

About 70% of Turkish journalists being held are Kurdish, an ethnic minority which has been seeking self-rule in areas of the south and east of the country.

“Turkish authorities conflate support for the Kurdish cause with terrorism itself,” the CPJ says.

More than 30,000 people have been killed in a 30-year conflict between the PKK rebels and the Turkish state.

The CPJ also warned that the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan used various forms of pressure to engender a culture of self-censorship in the press.

It said that Recep Tayyip Erdogan has publicly deprecated journalists, urged media outlets to discipline or fire critical staff members, and filed numerous high-profile defamation lawsuits.

Among the cases highlighted in the report are those of two prominent investigative reporters, Ahmet Sık and Nedim Sener, who were detained for more than year while on trial, accused of involvement in a plot against the government.

The two journalists told the CPJ they had both published or were writing books about sensitive topics, including the murder of the prominent journalist Hrant Dink.

But they have denied the charges that they were aiding the Ergenekon, a secret organization led by senior Turkish military officers, which has been accused of trying to overthrow the government.

 

Turkey has fired into Syria for a fourth day after a Syrian mortar landed near Turkish village Akcakale, reports say.

Turkish troops responded immediately after the mortar landed near the village of Guvecci in Hatay province, according to Turkey’s Anadolu Agency.

Turkey has been firing into Syria since Syrian mortar fire killed five Turkish civilians on Wednesday.

It was the first time Turkey has taken military action across the border since the Syrian uprising began.

Early on Saturday, the Anadolu Agency said the Syrian mortar had landed over the border during intense fighting between government troops and rebels in Syria’s Idlib province.

The rebels are fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government in an uprising that began in March last year.

There were no immediate reports of casualties on the Turkish side.

Following the killing of two women and three children in the Turkish border town of Akcakale this week, Turkey’s parliament authorized troops to launch cross-border operations against Syria and strike at Syrian targets for a period of one year.

The UN Security Council said the incident showed the “grave impact” of the Syrian crisis on “regional peace and stability”.

On Friday, Turkey moved tanks and anti-aircraft missiles into Akcakale, though Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country did not want war.

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Turkey has contacted the UN and NATO after Syrian shells killed five people in Turkish town Akcakale near the border between the two countries.

The shells exploded after being fired into Akcakale from Tall al-Abyad in Syria, where forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are trying to put down an 18-month-old insurgency.

The dead are said to include a woman and her three children.

Later, reports said Turkey had struck back at Syrian targets.

A statement from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish forces had shelled targets along the border identified by radar, AFP news agency reported.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc was quoted as saying that Syria must be made to account for the incident and there must be a response under international law.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu contacted UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, the UN’s Syria peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen after the incident, his office said.

The minister cleared his schedule and chaired an emergency meeting at the foreign ministry, it added.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Turkey’s foreign minister that he strongly condemned the incident, a NATO spokeswoman said, and continued to follow developments in the region “closely and with great concern”.

He has repeatedly said that NATO has no intention of intervening in Syria but stands ready to defend Turkey if necessary.

Akcakale has been fired on several times over the past few weeks. Residents have been advised to stay away from the border, and more than 100 schools have been closed in the region because of the violence in neighboring Syria.

Turkey’s state-owned Anatolia news agency reported that angry townspeople had marched to the mayor’s office to protest about the deaths on Wednesday.

Town mayor Abdulhakim Ayhan said: “There is anger in our community against Syria,” adding that stray bullets and shells had panicked residents over the past 10 days.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “We are outraged that the Syrians have been shooting across their border… and regretful of the loss of life on the Turkish side.”

She added it was a “very dangerous” situation.

Although Turkish territory has been hit by fire from Syria on several occasions since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began, Wednesday’s attack is believed to be only the second time that people have died as a result.

Two Syrian nationals were killed on Turkish soil in April by stray bullets fired from Syria.

In Syria itself, at least 34 people have been killed and dozens wounded in a series of bomb explosions in the centre of Syria’s second city, Aleppo.

The attacks leveled buildings in the city’s main square. A military officers’ club and a hotel being used by the military bore the brunt of the blasts, some of which were carried out by suicide car bombers.

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President Bashar al-Assad is quoted as saying he regrets “100 per cent” a Turkish jet was shot down after entering Syrian airspace.

In an interview with Turkey’s Cumhuriyet newspaper, Bashar al-Assad argues that the plane was flying in an area previously used by Israel’s air force.

The plane went down in the Mediterranean last month and the two pilots have not been found.

The incident has heightened tensions between the two countries.

President Bashar al-Assad is quoted as saying he regrets "100 per cent" a Turkish jet was shot down after entering Syrian airspace

President Bashar al-Assad is quoted as saying he regrets "100 per cent" a Turkish jet was shot down after entering Syrian airspace

Last week, Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Syria’s action and described the neighboring country as a “clear and present threat”.

Turkey reinforced border areas with rocket-launchers and anti-aircraft guns.

On Sunday, Turkey said it had scrambled six F-16 fighter jets when Syrian helicopters had approached the border.

“We will not allow (the shooting down) to turn into open combat between the two countries,” President Bashar al-Assad is quoted as saying.

Cumhuriyet, which published the interview on Tuesday, does not indicate when it took place but shows a picture of Bashar al-Assad standing beside its Ankara bureau chief Utku Cakirozer.

In other developments:

• Turkish media reported late on Monday that another 85 Syrian soldiers, including 14 senior officers, had defected across the Turkish border. It is one of the biggest groups of army defections since the March 2011 uprising in Syria began.

• Syria has been accused of practicing a widespread policy of state-sanctioned torture, in a Human Rights Watch report . The group says it has identified at least 27 detention centres across Syria.

• UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has said that both Syrian government forces and the opposition have been involved in operations that harmed civilians. She has appealed for further militarization of the conflict to be avoided at all costs.

 

Turkish army has scrambled six F-16 fighter jets near its border with Syria after Syrian helicopters came close to the border.

Six jets were sent to the area in response to three such incidents on Saturday, the statement said, adding that there was no violation of Turkish airspace.

Last month, Syrian forces shot down a Turkish jet in the border area.

The incident further strained already tense relations between former allies.

Turkey’s government has been outspoken in its condemnation of Syria’s response to the 16-month anti-government uprising, which has seen more than 30,000 Syrian refugees enter Turkey.

On Friday, Turkey said it had begun deploying rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns along the border in response to the downing of its F-4 Phantom jet on 22 June.

The move came after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that Turkey had changed its rules of military engagement and would now treat any Syrian military approaching the border as a threat.

Turkish army has scrambled six F-16 fighter jets near its border with Syria after Syrian helicopters came close to the border

Turkish army has scrambled six F-16 fighter jets near its border with Syria after Syrian helicopters came close to the border

Syria said the Turkish F-4 was shot down by air defence fire inside its airspace. Turkey insists it was downed by a missile after briefly entering and the leaving Syrian airspace.

The plane crashed in the Mediterranean, off the coast of the southern province of Hatay. Its pilots are still missing.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke of Turkey’s “rage” at the incident and described Syria as a “clear and present threat”.

NATO condemned the attack and voiced strong support for Turkey, after Ankara invoked Article 4 of NATO’s founding treaty, which entitles any member state to ask for consultations if it believes its security is threatened.

Four of the six jets were scrambled on Saturday from the airbase of Incirlik in response to two occasions of Syrian helicopters flying close to Hatay province, Sunday’s army statement said.

Later, two more F-16s took off from a base near Batman, in southeastern Turkey, after Syrian helicopters were spotted close to the province of Mardin, it added.

The military said the helicopters flew as close as 6.5 km (4 miles) to the border, according to the AP news agency.

The border incident comes after the UN and Arab League envoy on Syria, Kofi Annan, warned of the danger of the Syria conflict spilling over into the wider region if the bloodshed is not stopped.

He was addressing an international meeting of major international and regional powers in Geneva on Saturday, aimed at reviving the six-point peace plan for Syria brokered by Kofi Annan.

The countries present at the Geneva talks reached an agreement calling for a ceasefire and a transitional government in Syria.

Western demands to exclude President Bashar al-Assad and his allies from the interim administration reportedly foundered on opposition from Russia.

Moscow sees Syria as its closest ally in the region, and rejects any attempt to impose a solution on Syria from the outside.

The Paris-based opposition Syrian National Council rejected the Geneva deal as too ambiguous, according to the AP news agency.

Violence has worsened in Syria recently despite the cease-fire mediated by Kofi Annan as part of his six-point plan earlier this year.

On Friday, government forces recaptured the Damascus suburb of Douma – an opposition stronghold – after 10 days of artillery bombardment. Activists described conditions in the town as “catastrophic”.

Activists estimate that as many as 15,800 have died since the uprising began early last year. Casualties figures are difficult to verify, as Syria does not allow foreign journalists to operate on its territory.

The conflict is seen as becoming increasingly militarized, with both rebels and government forces thought to be receiving arms supplies from abroad.

 

 

Turkey begins rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns deployment along its border with Syria after last week’s downing of a fighter jet.

Columns of military vehicles have been seen moving from military bases to the border, close to where the jet crashed.

The F-4 Phantom went down in the sea after entering Syrian airspace and being hit by a missile. The pilots are missing.

Meanwhile, explosions have been reported outside a court complex in central Damascus.

Syrian state TV said there had been a “terrorist explosion” in the car park of the palace of justice and witnesses spoke of a thick plume of smoke in the area.

There was no word of casualties but opposition activists said ambulances were heard heading to the scene.

There are also reports of clashes in the Damascus suburb of Douma, where activists say four people have been killed.

Turkey begins rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns deployment along its border with Syria after last week's downing of a fighter jet

Turkey begins rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns deployment along its border with Syria after last week’s downing of a fighter jet

Turkey’s decision to reinforce its border with Syria comes two days after PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a change in terms of its military engagement.

He told parliament that Syria was a “clear and present threat” and any game that is dangerous and “military element” that approached the Turkish border from Syria would be treated as a threat and a military target.

Extra troops have been sent to the area and Turkish TV has shown pictures of a small convoy of trucks carrying anti-aircraft guns into a military base near the border town of Yayladagi.

According to local reports, other military vehicles have travelled to the border town of Reyhanli in Hatay province.

More than 33,000 refugees have fled Syria and have crossed the border into the province.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul is due to discuss the heightened tensions with Syria at a National Security Council meeting on Thursday.

Russia and other major powers are considering a proposal from UN envoy Kofi Annan for a national unity government to lead political change in Syria.

Moscow has agreed to back the plan which, according to Western diplomats, proposes a cabinet including members of the opposition and government, but no-one who would undermine its credibility.

The idea will be discussed on Saturday by the UN Action Group on Syria.

Although Western diplomats say President Bashar al-Assad would not be part of any unity government, his future role in Syria is not spelled out in Kofi Annan’s proposal.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that President Bashar al-Assad’s future had to be decided through a “Syrian dialogue by the Syrian people themselves”, adding that Saturday’s Geneva conference could not dictate the terms of a unity government.

President Bashar al-Assad has described Syria as being in a “real state of war” and the UN’s deputy envoy to Syria said on Wednesday that the violence “had reached or even surpassed” the levels seen in April when Kofi Annan’s ceasefire plan was agreed.

The UN says at least 10,000 people have been killed since pro-democracy protests began in March 2011. In June, the Syrian government reported that 6,947 Syrians had died, including at least 3,211 civilians and 2,566 security forces personnel.

 

NATO members will meet in emergency session after Syria shot down Turkish F-4 Phantom warplane.

The act is condemned by Turkey as a “serious threat” to regional peace.

In a letter to the UN Security Council, Turkey described the incident as a “hostile act by the Syrian authorities against Turkey’s national security”.

Turkey’s deputy prime minister said it “would not go unpunished”, but stressed it was not seeking military action.

Damascus insists the F-4 Phantom jet was shot down inside Syrian airspace.

In the letter to the Security Council, Ankara said the shooting down of its F-4 reconnaissance plane was “a serious threat to peace and security in the region”.

The letter does not ask the council to take any action.

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to outline his next step when he addresses parliament on Tuesday.

NATO members will meet in emergency session after Syria shot down Turkish F-4 Phantom warplane

NATO members will meet in emergency session after Syria shot down Turkish F-4 Phantom warplane

Turkey, a NATO member, has requested a meeting of the alliance’s ambassadors in Brussels after invoking Article 4 of NATO’s founding treaty, which entitles any member state to request consultations if it believes its security is threatened.

This is believed to be only the second time in NATO’s history that a member state has invoked Article 4. In 2003, Turkey asked for NATO assistance to ensure its security in the run-up to the Iraq war.

A NATO official quoted by AP news agency said Turkey’s NATO envoy would inform other ambassadors of the details of the incident at Tuesday’s meeting.

The envoys are then expected to discuss Turkey’s concerns but not decide on anything specific, said the official.

The North Atlantic Council – which consists of ambassadors from all 28 NATO countries – works by consensus and all members must approve any action.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, speaking after an emergency cabinet meeting on Monday, called the shooting down of the jet “a hostile act of the highest order”.

He vowed that Syria would “not go unpunished” but added that Turkey had “no intention” of going to war.

“We don’t believe warmongering or provoking the crowds by being righteous is the right thing to do. What needs to be done will be done within a legal framework,” he said.

Tensions between Syria and Turkey rose even higher on Monday when Turkey accused its neighbor of firing on another of its planes.

Bulent Arinc said the CASA search and rescue plane – which had been looking for the F-4 Phantom jet – was not brought down.

He said the Syrians stopped firing after a warning from the Turkish side.

Ankara has said the jet strayed into Syrian airspace by mistake last Friday but was quickly warned to change course by Turkish authorities and was one mile (1.6 km) inside international airspace when it was shot down.

Syria said it was unaware that the plane belonged to Turkey and had been protecting its air space against an unknown intruder.

But in its letter to the UN Security Council, Turkey says that intercepted radio communication shows that Syrian units were fully aware of the circumstances of the flight.

Relations between the two countries were already highly strained before the F-4 was shot down.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been outspoken in his condemnation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose government he accuses of brutally putting down opposition protests.

 

Turkish government has called an emergency security meeting amid reports that one of its fighter jets was shot down by Syrian security forces.

The Turkish military earlier said it had lost contact with an F-4 Phantom over the Mediterranean Sea on Friday morning, south-west of Hatay province.

It did not confirm reports that Syrian air defense forces were responsible.

But local media are quoting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as saying “the other side has expressed regret”.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan also revealed that the two crew members were safe.

Turkish government has called an emergency security meeting amid reports that one of its fighter jets was shot down by Syrian security forces

Turkish government has called an emergency security meeting amid reports that one of its fighter jets was shot down by Syrian security forces

Relations between Turkey and Syria, once close allies, have deteriorated sharply since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.

The Turkish military said it lost radio contact with the F-4 at 11:58 local time on Friday while it was flying over Hatay, about 90 minutes after it took off from Erhac airbase in the province of Malatya, to the north-west.

“Search-and-rescue efforts have started immediately,” a statement said.

The private news channel, NTV, later cited unnamed military sources as saying that the plane had crashed off Hatay’s Mediterranean coast, in Syrian territorial waters, but that there had been no border violation.

The Turkish and Syrian coast guards were collaborating in the search for the two crew members and the plane, NTV reported.

Witnesses in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia meanwhile said Syrian air defenses had shot down an unidentified aircraft near the town of Ras al-Basit.

Lebanon’s al-Manar television channel – controlled by Lebanon’s Hezbollah Shia movement, an ally of the Syrian government – also reported that Syrian security sources had said that “Syrian air defenses shot down a Turkish warplane and hit another in Syrian airspace”.

There was no immediate confirmation from Turkish officials, but later it was announced that Recep Tayyip Erdogan would be holding an emergency meeting with his top military and intelligence chiefs to discuss the missing plane.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan was also said to have told Turkish reporters on a flight back from Brazil that “the other side have expressed regret” over the downing of the F-4, and also that the pilots had been recovered.

 

The United Nations Security Council has been accused by Turkey PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan of indirectly supporting the oppression of the Syrian people by failing to unite on Syria.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the UN Security Council was standing by with its “hands and arms tied” while the Syrian people were dying every day.

Russia says Syria has promised to pull its forces from cities by 10 April.

In Damascus, the head of Red Cross has been meeting top Syrian officials.

Jakob Kellenberger has been trying to get Syria to allow aid workers better access to those who have been wounded or displaced by the conflict.

He will also press the Syrian authorities to implement a daily two-hour ceasefire, as stipulated in the peace plan proposed by the UN and Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the UN Security Council was standing by with its "hands and arms tied" while the Syrian people were dying every day

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the UN Security Council was standing by with its "hands and arms tied" while the Syrian people were dying every day

The president of the UN General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser, says he has asked Kofi Annan to brief the world body on his Syria peace mission.

No date has been set, but Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser said he had suggested 13 April, after the 10 April deadline for the military pullback and a mutual ceasefire has passed, our correspondent adds.

Russia’s foreign ministry says Syria’s government has informed Moscow it has started implementing Kofi Annan’s plan to end the unrest.

The ministry said in a statement that the Syrian ambassador to Moscow told Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov that Damascus had begun fulfilling its obligations under the plan, the Associated Press news agency reports.

The statement did not give any further details.

Kofi Annan’s spokesman, Ahmed Fawzi, said on Tuesday that an advance team from the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) would arrive in Damascus “in the next 48 hours” to discuss the deployment of international monitors.

The team would be made up of five to six people, he added.

The announcement comes the day after Kofi Annan urged the UN Security Council to set a deadline of 10 April for a ceasefire plan to come into force.

Syria says it has agreed to the deadline.

But activists say government forces have continued to attack opposition strongholds.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said by not taking a decision on Syria, the UN Security Council had “indirectly supported the oppression. To stand by with your hands and arms tied while the Syrian people are dying every day is to support the oppression”.

He told members of parliament from his governing AK Party that Turkey would not turn its back on the Syrian people.

China and Russia have twice vetoed resolutions condemning President Bashar al-Assad’s regime for turning the army on civilians.

On Monday, Kofi Annan told the UN Security Council that President Assad had agreed to withdraw security forces from major population centres by 10 April, diplomats said.

Kofi Annan also asked the Security Council to plan for the deployment of UN observers to supervise the ceasefire by all parties, as set out in his peace plan.

UN officials and diplomats said the monitors would probably be drawn from other peacekeeping forces in the region and could not be established without an end to the fighting, agreement by all parties and a Security Council mandate.

The ceasefire is only one part of Kofi Annan’s peace plan, which also calls for a political process to address the “aspirations” of the Syrian people, release of detainees, delivery of humanitarian aid, free movement for journalists, and right to protest.