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Posts tagged ‘Anatolia Section’

Protesters slam Turkish coup plot trial

December 13, 2012

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish police on Thursday used pepper spray and water cannons to push back hundreds of protesters trying to enter a courthouse where prosecutors were to deliver final arguments in a trial against nearly 300 people accused of plotting to overthrow the government, Turkish media reported.

Inside the courthouse, a panel of judges was forced to interrupt the trial three times over objections by defense lawyers and spectators shouting slogans in support of the defendants, who include prominent journalists, politicians, academics and retired generals, the state-run Anadolu agency and other media said.

The defendants are accused of plotting a series of attacks in a bid to foment chaos and provoke a military coup to bring down Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government, in a manner similar to past coups in Turkey that ousted civilian governments.

They are charged with belonging to an ultranationalist gang, Ergenekon, which takes its name from a legendary valley in Central Asia, believed to be the ancestral homeland of the Turks. Prosecutors say the Ergenekon gang was behind attacks on a newspaper and a courthouse, and plots to kill the prime minister and author Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate. The defendants have rejected the accusations.

The trial, now in its fourth year, grew out of an investigation into the seizure of hand grenades at the home of a noncommissioned officer in Istanbul in 2007. Opponents maintain the accused are victims of a government attempt to muzzle critics and undermine Turkey’s secular legacy and say the trial is based on flimsy or fabricated evidence.

The government insists the trial is a step toward democratic reform. Thousands of people travelled to the courthouse on the outskirts of Istanbul to show solidarity with the suspects, which includes the former Turkish military chief of staff, Ilker Basbug.

“People are being held (in prison) on false evidence,” Muharrem Ince, a legislator from Turkey’s main opposition party said in an address to protesters outside the court. “This is not a trial, it is (a government) revenge over the (secular) Republic.”

In September, more than 300 military officers, including the former air force and navy chiefs, were convicted of separate plots to bring down the government in 2003. Their case is being appealed.

NATO backs Patriot anti-missile system for Turkey

December 04, 2012

BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO announced Tuesday that it will deploy Patriot anti-missile systems near Turkey’s southern border, shoring up defenses against the threat of cross-border attacks from Syria and bringing the United States and its allies closer to Syria’s civil war.

The alliance’s 28 members decided to limit use of Patriots solely for the defensive purpose of warding off the mortar rounds and shells from Syria that have already killed five Turks. But the announcement also appeared to be a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime at a time when Washington and other governments fear Syria may be readying its chemical weapons stockpiles for possible use.

“We stand with Turkey in the spirit of strong solidarity,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters. “To anyone who would want to attack Turkey, we say, ‘Don’t even think about it!'”

Fogh Rasmussen stressed that the deployment of the Patriot systems — which includes missiles, radar and other elements — wouldn’t be a first step toward a no-fly zone over parts of Syria or any offensive operation against the Arab state.

But the decision to deploy the systems takes the U.S. and its European partners closer to the war, with the possibility of U.S.-made and NATO-operated hardware being used against the Assad regime for the first time.

Officials say the Patriots will be programmed so that they can intercept only Syrian weapons that cross into Turkish airspace. They aren’t allowed to penetrate Syrian territory pre-emptively. That means they would have no immediate effect on any Syrian government offensives — chemical or conventional — that remain strictly inside the country’s national borders.

Still, Fogh Rasmussen insisted that the weapons could help de-escalate tensions along a border across which tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled and which has emerged as a critical transit point for weapons being smuggled to the rebels fighting to overthrow Assad.

Germany and the Netherlands are expected to give Turkey several batteries of the latest PAC-3 version of the U.S.-built Patriots air defense systems, which intercepts incoming missiles. The U.S. would likely fill any gaps, possibly by sending some from its stocks in Europe.

But the exact details of the deployment and the number of batteries are still to be determined by NATO. A joint team is studying possible basing sites in Turkey, and parliaments in both Germany and the Netherlands must then approve shifting the assets and the possible involvement of several hundred soldiers.

It’s unclear if any American soldiers would need to be deployed. Due to the complexity and size of the Patriot batteries — including their radars, command-and-control centers, communications and support facilities — they cannot be flown quickly by air to Turkey and will probably have to travel by sea, alliance officials said. They probably won’t arrive in Turkey for another month, officials predicted.

NATO, like the U.S., doesn’t want to be drawn into the Syrian conflict. Washington has refused to entertain proposals for no-fly zones over Syria or for providing military support to Syrian rebels, fearful of making the conflict even more violent after 21 months in which more than 40,000 people have died.

The U.S. also cites the risk of extremists among the rebels getting their hands on weapons that they may later use against U.S. allies such as Israel. NATO previously installed long-range Patriot batteries on Turkish territory during the 1991 and the 2003 Iraq wars. They were never used and were withdrawn a few months later.

The Patriot, which first entered service three decades ago, has been successively upgraded over the years. Although mostly used for anti-aircraft defense, advanced versions can also be used against cruise missiles and against medium- and short-range ballistic missiles. They have a maximum range of about 160 kilometers (100 miles) and can reach altitudes of about 80,000 feet.

Syria is reported to have an array of artillery rockets, as well as short- and medium-range missiles. These include Soviet-built SS-21 Scarabs and Scud-B missiles. The Scuds are capable of carrying chemical warheads.

At NATO headquarters in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the alliance’s 27 other foreign ministers “unanimously expressed grave concerns about reports that the Syrian regime may be considering the use of chemical weapons,” according to Fogh Rasmussen.

“Any such action would be completely unacceptable and a clear breach of international law,” he said. His comments came a day after President Barack Obama warned of consequences if Assad made the “tragic mistake” of deploying chemical weapons. American officials say the U.S. and its allies are weighing military options in light of intelligence reports showing the Syrian regime may be readying its unconventional weapons and may be desperate enough to use them.

German ambassador Martin Erdmann said the Bundestag will probably take up the matter next week. The decision was announced after the NATO foreign ministers met Tuesday with their Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. The Kremlin has stymied more than a year of international efforts to apply global pressure on the Assad regime, its strongest ally in the Arab world, but officials say it has expressed equal concern about the threat of any chemical weapons.

Speaking to reporters, Lavrov said Russia wouldn’t object to the Patriots. “We are not trying to interfere with Turkey’s right” to defend itself, he said. “We are just saying the threat should not be overstated.”

Lavrov stressed that Syrian artillery strikes into Turkey were accidental. And he warned that the conflict “is being increasingly militarized,” and that more weaponry in the area would only add to that problem.

Addressing Lavrov and the other 27 NATO foreign ministers, Clinton said Washington and Moscow still have major differences on the political transition needed in Syria. She and her NATO partners issued a statement later, also stressing that the Patriots “will in no way support a no-fly zone or any offensive operation.”

Turkey, one of the harshest critics of the Assad regime, asked for the Patriots to defend against possible retaliatory attacks by Syrian missiles. It welcomed the NATO decision, adding in a government statement that it would press on with efforts “to solve the Syrian crisis through peaceful ways, with the same resolve as before.”

Turkey and Syria share a porous, 566-mile (911-kilometer) border, which has allowed rebel leaders to take shelter in Turkey and brought the countries to near war in recent months. Syria was blamed for shooting down a Turkish plane and for lobbing mortars that killed two women and three children.

Syria, which is party to the 1925 Geneva Protocol banning chemical weapons in war, has repeatedly insisted it would not use them even if it did possess such weapons.

Associated Press writer Christopher Torchia in Istanbul contributed to this report.

Turkey: Syrian regime resembles armed militia

December 01, 2012

ISTANBUL (AP) — The Syrian regime has degenerated into an “armed militia” that resorts to brutality in an attempt to stay in power, Turkey’s foreign minister said Saturday at a meeting with top Arab diplomats.

The officials at a one-day summit in Istanbul described the Syrian regime as a threat to peace and security in the region, and they also expressed support for the Palestinians after the United Nations endorsed an independent state for them on Thursday.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey said the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad had lost its legitimacy after 20 months of conflict that started with peaceful protests against the regime and evolved into a civil war after pro-Assad forces cracked down.

“It has turned into an armed militia power that resorts to all kinds of brutal methods just to stay in power,” Davutoglu said. “The Syrian regime, which is a serious threat to the future of its own people and country, with each passing day increases the threat it poses to the well-being of our region, through its actions that target peace and security beyond its borders.”

The Syrian civil war has forced hundreds of thousands of Syrians to flee the country, and many more are internally displaced. Activists say more than 40,000 people have died. Fighting has spilled into Turkey and other neighboring countries.

Turkey has asked NATO to deploy Patriot missiles on its territory as a defense against any attacks by the Syrian regime, and there are fears that the conflict is deepening sectarian divisions in the region.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour agreed that the Syrian war has “negative ramifications” for the region. But he advocated dialogue as the only solution to the crisis, contrasting with Turkey’s calls at the United Nations for an internationally protected “buffer zone” inside Syria that would protect civilians. Such a zone would likely require military action to secure it, including a no-fly zone.

“There should not be any external military or any other kind of intervention,” said Mansour, current chairman of the Arab League. He said the meeting of a dozen foreign ministers as well as other delegates, titled the Turkish-Arab Cooperation Forum, was a positive sign for a region traditionally plagued by a lack of political unity. Turkey launched the annual meeting in 2007.

“This was important in the aftermath of the 1990s, when we did not have a lot of activity,” Mansour said.

Turks protest NATO radar in Malatya

Mon Oct 3, 2011

Thousands of people have demonstrated in Turkey to protest against the planned deployment of a NATO missile system in the eastern province of Malatya.

About 5,000 residents of the city of Kurecik, which is located 700 kilometers from Iran’s border and where the missiles will be stationed, took to the streets to condemn the plan on Monday, Turkish NTV news channel reported.

Ankara announced in September that it had agreed on the deployment of the X-Band radar on its territory.

Protesters said on Monday that the system threatens the region’s security and economy.

They also criticized the Turkish government, saying that the decision had been made under pressure from the United States.

Meanwhile, opposition parties have called on the government to reject the planned deployment which is aimed at protecting Israel.

The Republican People’s Party, headed by Kemal Kilicdaroglu, said that the plan is aimed at protecting Israel from the threat of Iranian missiles.

The leader of the People’s Voice Party, Numan Kurtulmus, was also among the critics of the plan, saying that the government opposes Israel on the one hand while agreeing to a plan that is chiefly intended to defend Israel on the other.

Source: PressTV.


Syrian Refugees Flocking to Turkey Push the Limit

by Linda Gradstein

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Government Closes Some Border Crossings

For weeks now, the Ankara government has been saying that the number of 100,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey was a “psychological limit” – the point at which the border crossings would be closed. This week, the Turkish Disaster Management Agency, Afad, announced that there are now 100,363 Syrians at 14 camps along the border between Turkey and Syria, increasing speculation that no more refugees would be allowed in. Despite the threats, the influx shows no sign of slowing down.

“The 100,000 figure was truly a threshold for us, but we always said it may exceed 100,000,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters. “We are now currently working on this issue.”

The actual figure is even higher. In addition to those living in the government facilities, there are an estimated 70,000 Syrians who have fled the fighting but choose to rent apartments rather than live in refugee camps. In the camps themselves conditions are reasonable.

“The Turks have done an extremely good and professional job of setting up the camps,” Gerry Simpson, the refugee coordinator for Human Rights Watch told The Media Line. “Refugees are allowed to leave the camps for days or even weeks so they’re relatively free to move which is more than can be said in Iraq and Jordan where the authorities are refusing the refugees the right to leave the camps.”

The weather is already turning cold in Turkey. Simpson says officials are preparing for the change in temperature, with extra blankets and heaters for the refugees’ tents. Where Human Rights Watch is concerned, he says, is the situation on the Syrian side of the border, where an estimated 15,000 people fleeing the fighting are waiting to enter Turkey. At least two border crossings have already been closed.

“We are concerned about the thousands and soon to be tens of thousands who are stuck on the Turkish border as a result of the border closure,” he said. “In some of these places people are living under trees, in makeshift tents, or in schools where they are out in the open. They have little access to assistance. As winter approaches, it will become more urgent for Turkey to stop playing games and open the border crossings for Syrians fleeing violence.”

Tensions have increased as the once warm relations between Syria and Turkey have grown colder, and the two countries seem almost on the brink of war. This week, Turkey banned all Syrian flights from its airspace and ordered a plane to land after fears it was carrying weapons to Syria.

But most Turkish citizens differentiate between the government of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, which they see as the enemy, and the Turkish refugees fleeing the violence.

“I don’t think there’s a real problem with the refugees — these people will eventually go back to Syria,” Faruk Yalvach, a professor of political science at Middle East Technical University told The Media Line. “If eventually Assad goes, then Turkey will have a good position with all of these refugees thanking Turkey for taking care of [them].”

The total number of refugees is over 300,000 according to the United Nations. Besides the ones in Turkey, some 210,000 are in Jordan, straining that country’s resources. In Turkey, too, officials say the international community must provide more money for the refugees.

For many years there have been close relationships between families living on both sides of the Turkish-Syrian border.

But as the refugee flow continues, attitudes are likely to change. Turkish officials say they are willing to shoulder part of the burden of dealing with the influx frorm Syria, but they cannot be solely responsible. Now that the figure of 100,000 has been reached, it is likely that Turkish officials will move to stem the flow of refugees.

“We understand the problems and we want to help,” Professor Yalvach said. “But it has to end somewhere.”

Copyright © 2012 The Media Line. All Rights Reserved.

Landmark Turkish passenger flight lands in Tripoli


Saturday 1 October 2011

TRIPOLI: A Turkish Airlines passenger plane landed in Tripoli’s Mitiga airport from Istanbul on Saturday in the first international commercial flight to Libya since the ousting of Muammar Qaddafi in August.

Flags representing Turkey and Libya’s new leadership flew outside the airport as the plane landed while inside the building, passengers waited patiently and queued at the check-in desk to board the return flight.

“We are going to Turkey for business because it has been a long time since we traveled. We are happy that the airline is back in the meantime and we thank God,” said Tripoli resident Mohammed Al-Jaroushi.

The United Nations Security Council resolution imposed in March a no-fly zone for civilian flights over the country as part of international efforts to protect anti-government protesters under attack from Qaddafi loyalists.

Diplomats say civil airliners and flights carrying official delegations are allowed to fly into the country provided they notify monitors of their flight plans in order to avoid NATO attack.

A diplomat contacted by Reuters said he believed the Turkish Airlines flight would have had special clearance to enter the country.

Tripoli’s main international airport, which is a separate facility south of the capital, has yet to resume normal operations.

Turkish Airlines Chief Executive Temel Kotil told reporters: “We started in Benghazi as humanitarian support and also we had a flight here. We’ve been bringing people here and we’ve been going back and bringing (aid) to the needy and the wounded people.”

“Best wishes to Libya. God willing, it will eventually be much better than today.”

A UN Security resolution on Sept. 16 eased some sanctions on Libya but kept the no-fly zone in place, despite calls from Russia and South Africa for it to be lifted.

However, the resolution did remove an obligation on all member states to deny permission to any aircraft registered in Libya, or owned or operated by Libyan nationals or companies to take off from, land in or overfly their territory.

Source: Arab News.


Turkey: Syrian plane was carrying ammunition

October 11, 2012

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Escalating tensions with Russia, Turkey defended its forced landing of a Syrian passenger jet en route from Moscow to Damascus, saying Thursday it was carrying Russian ammunition and military equipment destined for the Syrian Defense Ministry.

Syria branded the incident piracy and Russia called the search illegal, saying it endangered the lives of Russian citizens aboard the plane. The accusation by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan contradicted denials by both Russia and Syria that anything illegal had been aboard the Airbus A320 that was intercepted over Turkish airspace late Wednesday.

“Equipment and ammunitions that were being sent from a Russian agency … to the Syrian Defense Ministry,” were confiscated from the jetliner, Erdogan told reporters in Ankara. “Their examination is continuing and the necessary (action) will follow.”

He did not provide details, but Turkish media said the seized cargo included missile parts as well as radio receivers, antennas and other military communications equipment. “As you know, defense industry equipment or weapons, ammunitions … cannot be carried on passenger planes,” Erdogan said. “It is against international rules for such things to pass through our air space.”

Erdogan refused to say how — or from whom — Turkey had learned that the twice-weekly scheduled flight would be used to transport military gear to Syria. “As you will appreciate, those who gave the tip, which establishments, these things cannot be disclosed,” he said.

The United States said it backed Turkey’s decision to intercept the plane. “Any transfer of any military equipment to the Syrian regime at this time is very concerning, and we look forward to hearing more from the Turkish side when they get to the bottom of what they found,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

She declined to comment on Turkish reports that the intelligence on the plane’s contents had come from the United States. The plane was allowed to continue to Damascus after several hours, without the cargo.

Turkish-Syrian relations have plummeted over the conflict in Syria, which has expanded into a civil war that threatens the stability of the Middle East. Syrian opposition activists estimate more than 32,000 people have been killed since March 2011, when the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime began.

Turkey has called for Assad to step down, while Damascus accuses Turkey of supporting the rebels. The two neighbors have traded artillery fire over Syria’s northern border throughout the past week. Hours before Erdogan’s statement, Russian Ambassador Vladimir Ivanovsky held talks with Turkish officials at the Foreign Ministry.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said the Kremlin was concerned that the lives and safety of the 35 passengers, including 17 Russian citizens, had been endangered. “The Russian side continues to insist on an explanation for the Turkish authorities’ actions toward Russian citizens and on the adoption of measures to avoid such incidents in the future,” Lukashevich said in a statement.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said the pilot of the Syrian Air jetliner had been warned of Turkey’s intention to ground it as he approached from the Black Sea and he was given the opportunity to turn back, but declined.

Rejecting claims that passengers were ill-treated, the ministry said those on board were allowed to leave the plane if they wanted and that there was a medical crew and ambulances on standby. It also said the pilot did not provide a passenger list and therefore Turkish officials did not know there were Russians on board until after the plane landed.

Separately, the Foreign Ministry said it had submitted a formal protest note to Syria for the violation of civil aviation rules and declared Syrian air space unsafe for Turkish planes. In Damascus, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi rejected the Turkish accusations as “absolutely untrue,” saying the plane was not carrying ammunition or any illegal cargo. Turkey’s decision to force the plane to land amounted to piracy, said Transportation Minister Mohammad Ibrahim Said.

The general manager of the Syrian Civil Aviation Agency also blasted Turkey’s forced landing of the plane, calling it “contrary to regulations and aviation norms.” The plane’s pilots were not asked to land but were surprised by the Turkish F-16 fighter jets that intercepted the flight, the official, Ghaidaa Abdul-Latif, told reporters in Damascus.

A Syrian Air engineer who was aboard, Haithan Kasser, said armed Turkish officials entered the plane and handcuffed the crew before inspecting packages that he said contained electrical equipment. The Moscow airport that cleared the Syrian plane for takeoff denied it carried any forbidden cargo.

“No objects whose transportation would have been forbidden under aviation regulations were on board,” said Vnukovo Airport spokeswoman Yelena Krylova, ITAR-Tass reported. She said all documentation was in order, though she would not say who sent the cargo.

Meanwhile, family and supporters of two journalists believed to be detained in Syria appealed in Istanbul for their release. Arzu Kadoumi said her husband Bashar Fahmi, a reporter for Al-Hurra network, and his Turkish cameraman, Cuneyt Unal, had been missing for 53 days.

Inside Syria, battles continued in the southern Idlib province that abuts the Turkish border as rebels sought to consolidate control of a strategic town on the country’s main north-south highway. Rebels said they captured Maaret al-Numan on Wednesday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said clashes continued Thursday after rebels attacked a military convoy and nearby army checkpoints. The fighting killed more than a dozen people, the Observatory said.

The Observatory also said eight people were killed and another eight wounded when unknown gunmen fired on their bus near the coastal city of Tartous. Syria’s state news agency SANA said the men were Syrian workers returning from Lebanon.

In the southern province of Daraa, gunmen shot dead the brother of a member of Syria’s parliament while raiding his home, the Observatory and SANA said. The parliament member, Khalid al-Abboud, regularly defends the Syrian regime on TV.

The Observatory said gunmen also killed the son of another legislator, Mohammed Kheir al-Mashi, at his home in Idlib province. The activist claims could not be independently verified because of restrictions on reporting in Syria.

Meanwhile, state-run Syrian TV reported an explosion in the capital Thursday night near the Ministry of Education and the Military Court. A Syrian official said the blast wounded two people.

Jordans reported from Istanbul. Associated Press reporters Matthew Lee in Washington, Albert Aji in Damascus, and Nataliya Vasilyeva and Max Seddon in Moscow contributed to this report.

Israeli jets ‘buzz Turkish drill ship’

Sept. 30, 2011

Israeli planes reportedly buzzed a Turkish ship exploring for natural gas off Cyprus amid a tense confrontation over the region’s rich offshore gas reserves.

NICOSIA, Cyprus, Sept. 30 (UPI) — Israeli F-15 warplanes have reportedly buzzed a Turkish seismic ship exploring for natural gas off the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus amid a tense confrontation over the region’s rich offshore natural gas reserves.

There was no immediate Israeli response to reports by Turkish and Cypriot newspapers on Thursday’s alleged incident.

But the face-off between Israel and onetime strategic ally Turkey has been escalating steadily in recent days, particularly when Turkey sent in the drilling ship, escorted by a navy frigate and a flight of warplanes, Monday.

Ankara was also reported to have deployed F-16 fighters to the Turkish-occupied northern sector of Cyprus, supposedly to bolster its recent naval build-up in the eastern Mediterranean.

The reports said the Turks scrambled two of the F-16s when the Israeli F-15s allegedly violated Cypriot air space.

The F-15s were intercepted and withdrew. No gunfire was reported but the Turks claimed an Israeli air force helicopter later hovered over the drilling ship, the Piri Reis.

Omer Celik, deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party who oversees foreign affairs, declared, “We have shown clearly to everyone that we will not allow the eastern Mediterranean to become a Greek-Cyprus-Israel goal.”

The Piri Reis was ordered to drill off southern Cyprus, the Greek sector of the island, after the Greek Cypriots began drilling in the so-called Aphrodite gas field.

That is an extension of large gas fields a U.S.-Israeli consortium discovered off the port city of Haifa in 2009-10.

These contain an estimated 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Aphrodite and some of the 11 other exploration blocks off Cyprus, 150 miles northwest of Israel, are thought to contain similar amounts.

Israel and the Greek Cypriots signed a December 2010 agreement that set the boundaries of their exclusive economic zones in the Mediterranean.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded after a short-lived coup by supporters of union with Greece. The Turks seized the northern third of the island and proclaimed it the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Only Ankara recognizes the breakaway enclave. The Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus is recognized internationally.

Israel and the Greek Cypriots seek to collaborate on building undersea pipelines to transport their combined gas production to the European Union via Greece.

Turkey insists the Greek Cypriots cannot drill for gas unless the Turkish Cypriot minority can share in the proceeds.

Ankara also claims no drilling can take place until a peace agreement reuniting the island has been reached. All attempts to do that have failed.

However, the Greek Cypriot leader, President Demetris Christofias, and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu resumed the complex negotiations after a 10-day break for the U.N. General Assembly.

“If the Greek Cypriots agree to stop, we’ll stop too,” Turkish Minister for European Affairs Egemen Bagis declared during a visit Tuesday to the TRNC. “But if they insist on proceeding, they know Turkey’s attitude very well.”

The contentious gas issue, which already involves a dispute between Israel and its northern neighbor Lebanon, has been caught up in two of the region’s most intractable conflicts, the 63-year-old Arab-Israeli confrontation and the historical rivalry between Turkey and Greece, with war-divided Cyprus as the flash point.

Turkey has effectively broken with its former ally, Israel, over its continued occupation and blockade of the Palestinian Gaza Strip. Relations nose-dived May 31, 2010, after the Israeli navy killed nine Turks during the interception in international waters of a Turkish ship carrying aid to Gaza.

The Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, citing accounts of the reported buzzing of the Piri Reis in the Turkish daily Vatan and the Greek Cypriot newspaper Phileleftheros, said the Israeli F-15s took off from a base near Tel Aviv.

The pilots flew through the airspace of both Greek Cyprus and the TRNC, allegedly ignoring repeated warnings from Turkish Cypriot air traffic controllers.

The incident was the first reported confrontation between Israeli and Turkish aircraft since the crisis between the two countries erupted in 2010.

But, warned Israeli analyst Jonathan Spyer, given the potential energy riches at stake, “the storm clouds are gathering over the eastern Mediterranean.

“Muscle-flexing in the eastern Mediterranean forms part of Ankara’s broader combined strategic and economic ambitions. Israel is part of the picture and is drawing closer to the Cypriots.”

Source: United Press International (UPI).


Turkey vows more force against Syrian shelling

October 10, 2012

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s military chief vowed Wednesday to respond with more force to any further shelling from Syria, keeping up the pressure on its southern neighbor a day after NATO said it stood ready to defend Turkey.

Gen. Necdet Ozel was inspecting troops who have been put on alert along the 910-kilometer (566-mile) border with Syria after a week of cross-border artillery and mortar exchanges escalated tensions between the neighbors, sparking fears of a wider regional conflict. Turkey has reinforced the border with artillery guns and also deployed more fighter jets to an air base close to the border region since shelling from Syria killed five Turkish civilians last week.

“We responded and if (the shelling) continues, we will respond with more force,” the private Dogan news agency quoted Ozel as saying during a visit to the town of Akcakale, where he offered condolences to a man who lost his wife and three daughters to a Syrian shell.By

On Tuesday, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance was ready to defend Turkey, its strongest show of support to its ally since the firing began. The solidarity, however, is largely symbolic. NATO member Turkey has sought backing in case it is attacked, but despite publicly supporting Syria’s rebels Ankara isn’t seeking direct intervention. And the alliance is thought to be reluctant to get involved militarily at a time when its main priority is the war in Afghanistan.

On Wednesday schools in Akcakale reopened despite the tense situation. They had been closed due to security concerns. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported fighting between Syrian rebels and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime around the Syrian town of Azmarin, in Idlib province, across from the Turkish border. It said Syrians were fleeing homes in Azmarin, some crossing into Turkey on rowing boats over the river Orontes, that runs along the border.

Private NTV television reported that explosions and automatic weapon fire could be heard in Turkey’s Hatay province, coming from the Azmarin region. It said rebels were clashing with some 500 Syrian government soldiers, and that at least 100 rebels had been injured, some of whom had been brought to Turkey for treatment.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been fiercely critical of Syrian President Bashar Assad, said Wednesday that Syria was “the bleeding heart of humanity and the whole Islamic world.”

Erdogan told a meeting of the Islamic Conference in Istanbul that Turkey had refrained from responding to half a dozen shells from Syria, but when five people were killed last week “we had to retaliate in the strongest way that we could.”

Frank Jordans in Istanbul contributed to this report.

326 convicted in Turkey military coup plot

September 21, 2012

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A Turkish court on Friday convicted 326 military officers, including the former air force and navy chiefs, of plotting to overthrow the nation’s Islamic-based government in 2003, in a case that has helped curtail the military’s hold on politics.

A panel of three judges at the court on Istanbul’s outskirts initially sentenced former air force chief Ibrahim Firtina, former navy chief Ozden Ornek and former army commander Cetin Dogan to life imprisonment but later reduced the sentence to a 20-year jail term because the plot had been unsuccessful, state-run TRT television reported. The three were accused of masterminding the plot.

The court also convicted 323 other active or retired officers, including a former general elected to Parliament a year ago— of involvement in the conspiracy, sentencing some to as much as 18 years in prison. Thirty-six were acquitted, while the case against three other defendants was postponed.

The officers were all expected to appeal the verdicts. The trial of the high-ranking officers — inconceivable in Turkey a decade ago — has helped significantly to tip the balance of power in the country in favor of civilian authorities.

Turkey’s generals have staged three coups since the 1960s and forced an Islamist government to quit in 1997. But the current government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has grown ever more confident with each of its three electoral successes since 2002, and has been limiting the powers of the armed forces which have long seen themselves as the guardians of Turkey’s secular traditions.

Erdogan’s government has hailed the trial, which began in December 2010, and other similar ones as a break with a tradition of impunity and a move toward greater democracy. However, the officers’ case — dubbed “Sledgehammer” after the alleged conspiracy — has been marred by the suspects’ long confinement without a verdict and some judicial flaws, including allegations of fabricated evidence. The government’s secular critics have denounced the coup plot trials as a ploy to intimidate opponents.

Some defense lawyers have refused to appear in court for the past five months, saying the authenticity of some of the evidence was not investigated. Erdogan said he hoped Friday’s verdict was a “just” one but refused to comment further, saying he had not seen the reasoning behind the verdicts and the proceedings against the military officers were not over yet.

“We have to see the appeals phase,” Erdogan said. “The final dot has not been placed yet. The process is continuing.” Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim said: “We all hope that no anti-democratic initiative ever occurs in our country again.”

Prosecutors accused the 365 defendants in the trial of plotting to depose Erdogan by triggering turmoil in the country that would have paved the way for a military takeover. They claimed the plotters, taking part in an army seminar in 2003, drew up plans for a coup which included bombings of mosques, the downing of a Turkish fighter plane and other acts of violence that would have allowed the military to intervene on the pretext of restoring order.

The military has said officers taking part in the seminar discussed a fictitious scenario involving internal conflict, but that there were no plans for a military coup. Protests broke out soon after Friday’s verdicts were announced, Hurriyet newspaper reported, with some of the officers’ supporters booing the decision inside the courthouse and others waving Turkish flags and shouting “Turkey is secular and will remain secular” outside.

Celal Ulgen, the lawyer defending Dogan — accused of being the main ringleader — called the court’s decision unjust and unlawful. “Their rights to defend themselves were violated,” Ulgen told NTV television. “There is no independent judiciary.”

Dogan said in his final defense statement Thursday that the trial was a political one designed to undermine the military. “It is a case assembled to make soldiers, be they active-duty or retired soldiers, pay the penance for their loyalty to the republic and its (secular) principles,” he said.

More than 400 other people — including journalists, academics, politicians and soldiers — are also on trial on charges of involvement in a conspiracy by an alleged gang of secular nationalists called “Ergenekon.”

The former head of the Turkish armed forces, Gen. Ilker Basbug, and other military officers are, meanwhile, awaiting trial in a separate case. Two elderly leaders of Turkey’s 1980 military coup, Kenan Evren and Tahsin Sahinkaya, are being prosecuted for the military takeover that saw many cases of torture, disappearance and extrajudicial killings.

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