Turkey alarmed by ‘Russian build-up’ on Syria border
ISTANBUL // Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday expressed alarm over reports of a build-up of Russian troops in northern Syria near the Turkish border, saying such movements will not be tolerated.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, Russia has sent a number of engineers to the Syrian border town of Qamishli to strengthen the runway and increase the capacity of an airport there.
Russia’s reported move into Qamishli comes as Ankara and Moscow are experiencing their biggest crisis in years over the shooting down of a Russian war plane by Turkey last November 24.
“We have said this from the beginning: we won’t tolerate such formations [in northern Syria] along the area stretching from the Iraqi border up to the Mediterranean,” Mr Erdogan said on Friday, citing reports that Russia had deployed some 200 soldiers.
“We maintain our sensitivities on this issue.”
Observers have said that Russia, which has for years been at loggerheads with Turkey over the Syrian conflict, may want to refit the airport at Qamishli as a Russian base. This happened at the Hmeimim airport in Latakia province.
Qamishli lies just south of the Turkish border town of Nusaybin.
The Turkish army has already reinforced security by digging trenches in the border zone, Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper said.
Top Russian military officials, including figures from the GRU military intelligence service, had already visited Qamishli, it added.
The Kremlin and Iran are the chief remaining allies of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad who Turkey wants to see ousted as the key to ending Syria’s almost five-year war.
Turkey has repeatedly expressed alarm about Russia’s deployment of troops to Syria which Moscow says is aimed at fighting militants but is widely seen as supporting the Assad regime.
Also on Friday, a Nato official said member states were discussing a request to use the alliance’s Awacs air surveillance aircraft in the battle against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
Any Awacs commitment would mark a departure for the alliance which up to now has had no direct role in combating ISIL but is increasingly concerned by the threat it poses on its southern flank.
Diplomatic sources said the request came from the United States which leads an anti-ISIL coalition of more than 60 countries, including most of Nato’s 28 member states.
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: January 23, 2016 04:00 AM