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July 02, 2012

Turkey scrambles jets along Syrian border

Syrian military helicopters flew near Turkish border, heightening tensions between the two countries. (UPI/Debbie Hill)

LONDON (UPI) -- Turkey scrambled warplanes three times Saturday in response to Syrian military helicopters flying near the border, the Turkish military said.

While the Turkish jets did not fire on the Syrians, the incidents maintained the tensions that were heightened when Syria shot down a Turkish F-4 Phantom that entered Syrian airspace last month.

The BBC said Turkey also recently reinforced its troops along the border.

Britain's The Sunday Times said Russian technicians were involved in the downing of the Turkish fighter and speculated Moscow was sending a warning to NATO not to intervene in the ongoing rebellion against President Bashar Assad.

"It definitely has Russian fingerprints on it," one diplomat said, adding Russia's intended message appears to be, "Syria is not Libya and any attempt to impose a no-fly zone over Syria will face one of the most formidable air defenses on Earth and will cost any attacker dearly."

Sources told the newspaper Russian experts were believed to be stationed at Syrian missile batteries. "We would not be surprised if these Russian experts, if they didn't push the button, at least were beside the Syrian officers who did," an Israeli air force official told the newspaper.

Following the incident, Ankara requested an emergency meeting with NATO's 28 member states. Following the meeting a statement issued by NATO Secretary-General Fogh Rasmussen said, "We consider this act to be unacceptable and condemn it in the strongest terms."

Russia stated Turkey's planes had been monitoring Syrian military communications and passing the information on to its NATO allies.

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