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Turkey recognizes new Syrian leadership group

November 15, 2012|By Patrick J. McDonnell
  • Turkish soldiers patrol in the border town of Ceylanpinar.
Turkish soldiers patrol in the border town of Ceylanpinar. (Bulent Kilic / AFP/Getty…)

BEIRUT -- Turkey on Thursday became the latest nation to recognize the newly created Syrian opposition coalition as the “legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” and the Turkish foreign minister called on other nations to follow suit.

Ankara’s move comes in the same week that France made a similar declaration, although France went a step further by labeling the opposition bloc the nation’s sole legitimate representative.

Syrian dissidents are seeking bolstered financial and military aid from allied governments. Syrian rebel forces  especially want anti-aircraft missile systems to counter Syrian jet fighters and helicopters.

“What the Syrian revolution and the Syrian people need now is not more speeches of sympathy and promise only, but effective and real support,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at a meeting in Djibouti, the Turkish media reported.

The United States has lauded the new opposition bloc, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, but has declined to recognize the group as a government-in-exile or provide weapons to the opposition.

On Wednesday, President Obama warned that U.S. officials had “seen extremist elements insinuate themselves into the opposition” in Syria.

The new opposition coalition was formed Sunday under pressure from Western and Arab supporters of the Syrian uprising. The fractious nature of the opposition has frustrated Washington and allies backing dissidents' demand for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Tensions between Turkey and Syria have been escalating.

Turkey, which shares a more than 500-mile border with Syria, has been a crucial supporter of the Syrian rebel cause. Ankara has allowed its territory to be used as a logistics base and staging center for Syrian insurgents.

Turkey warned this week that it would respond to any breach of its skies by Syrian aircraft. Syrian warplanes have been bombarding a rebel-held Syrian city, Ras Ayn, just south of the Turkish border in Syria’s northeast Hasakah province. The attacks sent a torrent of Syrian refugees into Turkey and shattered windows in the nearby Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar.

Syria has increasingly deployed aircraft against Syrian rebels. But most aerial strikes have taken place far from the sensitive border zone with Turkey.

Turkey, which forms the eastern bulwark of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has mounted dozens of retaliatory artillery strikes into Syria in response to apparently errant Syrian artillery shells that have fallen on Turkish territory. The policy began after national outrage erupted in October, when a Syrian mortar hit a home in the Turkish border town of Akcakale, killing five civilians.

But Turkish forces are not known to have opened fire on any Syrian aircraft. In June, however, Syrian anti-aircraft batteries did shoot down a Turkish fighter jet that allegedly violated Syrian airspace. Turkey said the jet was shot down in international skies. Two airmen died.

Currently, Ankara is in talks with NATO about possible deployment of the Patriot surface-to-air missile system, which it says may be necessary to protect Turkish civilians from Syrian fire. Some view the move as a potential forerunner to the imposition of a "no-fly" zone in rebel-occupied areas of northern Syria.

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