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Damascus hit as Turkey sends troops to border

Beirut, June 28, 2012

Rebel forces attacked Syria's main court in central Damascus on Thursday, state television said, while Turkey deployed troops and anti-aircraft rocket launchers to the Syrian border, building pressure on President Bashar al-Assad.

There was a loud explosion and a column of black smoke rose over Damascus, an Assad stronghold that until the last few days had seemed largely beyond the reach of rebels. State television described it as a "terrorist explosion" in the court car park.

The car park is used by lawyers and judges working at the Palace, Syria's highest court. It was unclear if there were casualties in the attack on a potent symbol of Assad's authority.

In southeastern Turkey, Turkish military convoys moved towards the Syrian frontier, reacting to Syria's shooting down of a Turkish warplane over the Mediterranean on Friday.

The build-up of defences coincided with an escalation of violence in Syria itself and a growing sense of urgency in Western- and Arab-backed diplomatic efforts to forge a unity government and end 16 months of bloodshed.

After Syria on Friday shot down a Turkish warplane, which Ankara says was in international airspace over the Mediterranean, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan ordered his troops to treat any Syrian military element approaching the border as a military target.

He gave no details, but this could cover Syrian forces pursuing rebels towards the border, or patrolling helicopters or warplanes. Syria said at the weekend that it had killed several "terrorists" infiltrating from Turkey.

A first substantial convoy of about 30 military vehicles, including trucks loaded with anti-aircraft missile batteries, dispatched from Turkey's coastal town of Iskenderun, was moving slowly towards the Syrian border 50 km (30 miles).

A Reuters reporter near the town of Antakya saw the convoy moving out of the hills and through small towns on a narrow highway escorted by police.

Early on Thursday, another convoy left a base at Gaziantep near the Syrian border and headed for Kilis province, which is the site of a large camp for Syrian refugees. Video from the DHA agency showed the convoy, of about 12 trucks and transporters, filing through the gates of the base past the hanging Turkish red flag with white crescent moon and star.

David Hartwell, Middle East analyst at IHS Jane's called the Turkish action a 'pragmatic, rational response' after the shooting down of the Turkish aircraft, that Syria insists was flying low and fast in Syrian air space. "Damascus has been warned once. I doubt there will be a second warning."

Turkey, in the forefront of Western efforts to press Assad from power after a 16 month insurrection, hosts over 33,000 Syrian refugees on its southeastern border as well as units of the rebel Free Syria Army (FSA) that is fighting to overthrow Assad. – Reuters




Tags: Syria | Turkey | Troops | border | rebels | Damascus |

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