Turkey ordered an Armenian plane flying to the Syrian city of Aleppo to land and searched its cargo on Monday, in the latest move to prevent its airspace being used to supply the Syrian military.
The plane was allowed to continue on its way after the search in the eastern Turkish city of Erzurum confirmed it was carrying humanitarian aid as stated by Armenian officials, a Turkish deputy prime minister said.
Last Wednesday Turkey forced down a Syrian airliner that had come from Moscow, and said it had found Russian munitions on board destined for Syria’s armed forces.
NATO-member Turkey has become increasingly assertive in challenging Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the face of growing tensions along the border and banned all Syrian aircraft from its airspace in the wake of that incident.
“The plane was ordered to land and it was inspected. It was clear that the declaration was correct and the plane was given permission to take off,” Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told reporters.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Turkey had the sovereign right under the Chicago convention on civil aviation to require planes crossing its airspace to make a “technical landing” but did not say whether this right would be exercised in future.
Armenia confirmed it had known the plane would be searched.
“The landing of the airplane in Turkey was planned and it was carried out according to a previously reached agreement. The airplane is delivering humanitarian aid to Syria,” Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Tigran Balayan said.
Last week’s decision to force down and search the Syrian plane travelling from Russia infuriated Moscow and Damascus.
Russia has said there were no weapons on the plane and that it was carrying a legal cargo of radar equipment. But Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later said the incident would not hurt the countries’ “solid” relations.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at the weekend that Turkish airspace had been closed to Syrian planes. Syria has also banned Turkish planes from flying over its territory.
The confrontation between Turkey and Syria has escalated in the last two weeks because of cross-border shelling, with Ankara retaliating after five Turkish civilians were killed when a Syrian shell hit a Turkish border town.
The bloodshed inside Syria has worsened markedly in the past two months although neither government nor rebels have been able to gain a decisive advantage.
The increased conflict has fuelled further refugee flows across Syria’s borders, with many fleeing to Turkey.
The Turkish disaster management agency (AFAD) said on Monday there were now 100,363 Syrians at more than a dozen camps.
Turkey has said it will struggle to accommodate more than 100,000 and has urged the United Nations to build refugee camps in a safe zone within Syria’s borders.
However, Jordan says it is planning to open a second camp for Syrian refugees, whose numbers are expected to climb to 250,000 by the year's end.
Government spokesman for Syrian refugee affairs Anmar Hmoud says the proposed site is at Marajeeb al-Fahood, 44 kilometres east of the capital Amman. He did not say when it would open.
The UN refugee agency says Jordan currently hosts 210,000 Syrian refugees — the largest number in the region. Those arriving through unofficial border crossings are housed in Zaatari camp, now home to more than 33,000 refugees. Many more live among Jordanian families.
Zaatari has seen violent protests over its harsh desert conditions in recent weeks.
Mr. Hmoud said that the new camp could initially house 5,000 but expand to hold 45,000 residents.
Also Monday, The UN peace envoy to Syria called on Iran to help achieve a ceasefire in Syria during the upcoming Muslim holiday, which starts next week.
Lakhdar Brahimi says the civil war in Syria is worsening. He is stressing the urgent need to stop the bloodshed.
Mr. Brahimi’s remarks came at the end of his visit to Iran where he met Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a major backer of Mr. al-Assad.
Mr. Brahimi is touring the region for talks on ways to resolve the Syrian crisis.
His appeal for a cease-fire for Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, is unlikely to resonate in Syria where activists say more than 32,000 people have been killed in the past 19 months.
Previous calls for a ceasefire have largely been ignored.
According to Syrian TV, Mr. al-Assad has ordered immediate repairs at a historic mosque in the city of Aleppo after fierce fighting between rebels and regime forces set parts of the compound on fire.
Government troops had been holed up inside the place of worship in downtown Aleppo for several months before rebels fighting to topple Mr. al-Assad launched a push to liberate it this week.
The 13th century Umayyad mosque is a UNESCO world heritage site. Now, the regime and the rebels are trading accusations over who is responsible for the fire.
Syrian TV said Monday that Mr. al-Assad issued a presidential decree to form a committee to repair the mosque by the end of 2013.
Aleppo has been the scene of intense fighting for months.
With a report from The Associated Press
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