Turkey putting squeeze on Syria with border anti-aircraft guns

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Turkey has deployed anti-aircraft guns and other weapons alongside its border with Syria, reports say, days after the downing of a Turkish military jet by Syrian forces.

A small convoy of military trucks, towing anti-aircraft guns, entered into a military outpost in the border village of Guvecci, which faces a Syrian military outpost across the border and where Syrian forces and rebels clashed in recent months, TRT state television footage showed.

Several anti-aircraft guns have also been deployed elsewhere alongside the border. Some trucks were seen carrying self-propelled multiple rocket launchers.

The move came as a strong explosion rocked the Syrian capital Damascus, sending black smoke billowing into the sky.

The explosion was in the car park at the Palace of Justice, a compound that houses several courts, said state TV.

Syria has been hit by a wave of massive explosions in recent months, killing dozens of people. Most of the explosions targeted the security agencies of President Bashar Assad, who is fighting to end a 15-month-old uprising against his rule.

Last month, an explosion targeted a military intelligence compound south of Damascus killing 55 people. It was Syria’s deadliest blast.

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned this week that any Syrian military unit approaching its border will be treated as a direct threat. Turkey’s Nato allies have expressed solidarity with Ankara and condemned the Syrian attack on the fighter jet but made no mention of any retaliatory action against Syria.

Turkey and Syria had cultivated close ties before the Syrian revolt began in March 2011, but since then Turkey has become one of the strongest critics of Syria’s regime and repeatedly called on Assad to step down as 33,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey.

Turkey is also hosting civilian opposition groups as well as hundreds of army defectors who are affiliated with the Free Syrian Army and collect food and other supplies to deliver to comrades on smuggling routes.

A Syrian minister said on Wednesday his country’s forces may have mistaken the Turkish plane they shot down for an Israeli one.

Syrian information minister Omran al-Zoebi said his country did “not want a crisis between Turkey and Syria”.

Mr Al-Zoebi said Turkish and Israeli fighter jets were mostly US-made, which may have led the Syrian forces to mistake it for an Israeli jet. Syria insists the Turkish military plane violated its air space on Friday.

Turkey says that although the jet had unintentionally strayed into Syria’s air space, it was inside international airspace when it was brought down over the Mediterranean by Syria.

The search for two missing pilots was under way in Syrian waters but hopes dimmed for their survival, Turkish authorities said.

At least three people were wounded and around 20 cars were damaged in the Damascus blast, state TV reported.

A reporter at the scene said some cars were charred and many had their windscreens blown out.

The blast happened at 1 pm near the capital’s Hamidiyeh Market, an area crowded with families stocking up on food and other supplies for the weekend, which begins tomorrow in Syria.

Witnesses reported hearing one blast, but TV said two explosions struck the area. The report also said a roadside bomb was found but did not explode.

Much of the violence that has gripped Syria since the uprising began has been sanctioned by the government to crush dissent.

But rebel fighters are launching increasingly deadly attacks on regime targets, and several massive suicide attacks this year suggest al-Qaida or other extremists are joining the fray.

Three Syrian attack helicopters which have been refurbished in Russia will be sent back to Syria, Russian defence officials have reportedly said.

Last week, a cargo ship carrying the helicopters to Syria was forced to turn back after its British insurer removed coverage for the vessel.

Alexander Fomin, the Russian defence official, was quoted by the Ria Novosti news agency as saying that Moscow plans to deliver the helicopters, without specifying how or when.