May 25, 2013
Turkey bans Syrian planes from its air space, rebels gain
Turkey has banned all Syrian aircraft from its air space as it takes an increasingly firm stance against President Bashar al-Assad, while Syrian rebels said they had made more gains in a key province near the Turkish border.
Human Rights Watch said Syrian government forces had dropped Russian-made cluster bombs over civilian areas in the past week as they battled to reverse rebel advances, an act which rights groups say can constitute a war crime.
NATO-member Turkey has increasingly taken on a leadership role in the international coalition ranked against Assad.
Turkish confrontation with Syria increased in the past two weeks because of cross-border shelling and escalated on October 10 when Ankara forced down a Syrian airliner en route from Moscow, accusing it of carrying Russian munitions for Assad's military.
Russia has said there were no weapons on the plane and that it was carrying a legal shipment of radar equipment.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Sunday Turkish air space had been closed to Syrian planes. Syria banned Turkish planes from flying over its territory on Saturday.
"We made a new decision yesterday and informed Syria. We closed our air space to civilian Syrian flights as well as military flights," Davutoglu said.
The bloodshed inside Syria has worsened markedly in the past two months although neither side has been able to gain a distinct advantage. Combat has been reported nationwide but the crucial strategic battles are being fought in an arc through western Syria, where most of the population lives.
Rebels surrounded an army garrison on Sunday near a north-western town, in the latest push to seize more territory near the border with Turkey, opposition activists said. Rebels also posted video on the Internet purportedly showing a fighter jet they had shot down in the area the previous day.
Several hundred soldiers were trapped in the siege of a base in Urum al-Sughra, on the main road between the contested city of Aleppo, Syria's commercial and industrial hub, and Turkey.
"Rebels attacked an armoured column sent from Aleppo to rescue the 46th Regiment at Urum al-Sughra and stopped it in its tracks," Firas Fuleifel, one of the activists told Reuters by phone from Idlib province, west of Aleppo. He said the jet was shot down while trying to provide air support to the column.