Turkey sends missile batteries to Syria border
Al-Salama, Syria - Agence France-Presse
Turkish military trucks carry missile batteries on June 28, 2012 in the center of Hatay. AFP photo
Turkey sent batteries of ground-to-air missiles to the border with Syria on Sunday, media reports said, boosting its firepower as rebels in Syria seized several border posts.
As fighting raged in Damascus and Aleppo, rebels were said to have taken control of three crossing points on the border with Turkey, which is sheltering thousands of Syrians who have fled the conflict at home.
A train convoy carrying several batteries of missiles arrived in Mardin in southeastern Turkey and will be transferred to several army units deployed on the border, according to the Anatolia news agency.
Television footage showed at least five vehicles in the convoy were carrying air defence missiles, in the latest show of force by Syria's one-time ally, which is now a fervent critic of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned last month after the downing of a military jet initially blamed on Damascus that it now regarded Syria as a "clear and imminent threat".
Syria has in turn accused Turkey of sheltering rebels and training and supplying militants fighting the regime in a conflict that erupted in March 2011 and has now claimed at least 19,000 lives, according to activists.
Rebels were now in control of the Jarabulus, Bab al-Hawa and Al-Salama posts along the nearly 900-kilometre (560-mile) frontier with Turkey, a diplomat and Anatolia said.
At the Al-Salama border post in Syria, around 17 rebel fighters armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles were in control Sunday, an AFP photographer at the scene reported.
As some of them burned portraits of Assad, rebel leader Ammar Dehdeh gave details of the battle, which he said had lasted for three hours early Sunday.
During the fighting, against a force of 130 Syrian government troops, they had killed nine soldiers and captured another 20, he said. The other troops fled.
"This border post has a strategic importance for the regime, because this area is the most suitable one to set up a buffer zone," said Dehdeh.
"The capture of this post is a heavy blow to the regime," he added.
The Al-Salama post lies north of Aleppo, facing the Turkish border post of Oncupinar near Kilis in the southeast, where refugees at a camp there clashed with Turkish police after demonstrating over their living conditions.
An amateur video released earlier Sunday by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights showed armed men celebrating the takeover of the Al-Salama post. One fighter identifies himself as the spokesman for the "Northern Storm Brigade" of the rebel Free Syrian Army. Several men standing behind him hold up their weapons to celebrate, chanting: "Allahu Akbar! (God is greatest)".
Anatolia had earlier reported that rebel fighters took Al-Salama after hours of fighting during the night, and that the sounds of the battle could be heard from the Turkish side of the border.
On Tuesday, rebels took control of the Jarabulus border post, north of Lake Assad in Aleppo province.
Rebel forces gained control of the Bab al-Hawa crossing on Thursday, but on Saturday, a group of some 150 foreign fighters were in control of the post, an AFP photographer said.
Some fighters said they belonged to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), while others claimed allegiance to a group called Shura Taliban.
They were armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, rocket launchers and improvised mines.