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MIDEAST > Syrian missile systems lock onto five Turkish jets as clashes rage across border

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Syria has increased air strikes against the border town of Kassab in the governorate of Latakia, March 25. AA Photo

Syria has increased air strikes against the border town of Kassab in the governorate of Latakia, March 25. AA Photo

Syrian air missile batteries locked onto five Turkish F-16 patrolling the Syrian border, the General Staff said in a statement March 25, two days after Turkey downed a Syrian aircraft.

Turkish jets were sent to the zone after four Syrian planes and helicopters approached Turkish airspace across from Hatay where clashes have been ongoing between government troops and groups close to al-Qaeda for five days.

“As they were flying over Hatay, our five F-16 jets were harassed 12 times by SA-2, SA-5 and SA-17 surface-to-air missile systems deployed in Syria, which locked onto them for 10 minutes and 53 seconds in total,” the General Staff said.

The Turkish jets flew away while they were at a distance of 1.6-2.7 nautical miles away from the Syrian border and moved away from the region, the statement added.

Only a day ago, on March 24, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) said a Syrian missile system “harassed” a Turkish fighter for more than four minutes.

The General Staff also said in a statement that a similar incident occurred on March 23, the same day Turkish fighter jets shot down a Syrian warplane for allegedly violating Turkey’s airspace. Tensions have since escalated between the neighboring countries as the army has deployed armed vehicles on the frontier further east as officials mull a possible operation to “protect” the tomb of Süleyman Şah, a crop of Turkish land which is located 25 kilometers inside Syria’s borders.

Syria bombs Kassab

Meanwhile, Syria has increased air strikes against the border town of Kassab in the governorate of Latakia, which was reportedly captured by groups linked to al-Qaeda on March 23.

The strikes were visible from the Turkish side of the border. Injured people were also brought to hospitals in Hatay’s Yayladağı district.

Islamist rebel groups are fighting government troops near the seaside tourist village of Samra further west, activists said. The reports were also confirmed by the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Observers said if the rebels take Samra, the Syrian government would lose coastline for the first time during the conflict. Kassab is on the westernmost border between Syria and Turkey. The town has a high Armenian population, and many in the town have expressed great fear at the possibility of being slaughtered by the Islamists whom they accuse Ankara of supporting.

Populated mostly by Alawites, Latakia is considered to be the homeland of President Bashar al-Assad.

March/25/2014

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