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Wednesday, October 5, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Turkey stages major military exercise
near Syrian border

ANKARA — Turkey, in its first show of force since the revolt against the regime of President Bashar Assad, has launched an army exercise along the border with Syria.


Officials said the Turkish Army was to conduct a major exercise in the southern province of Hatay near the Syrian border on Oct. 5. They said the exercise in Hatay would last at least eight days and include main battle tanks.

"The exercise is to test the readiness of reserve forces," the Turkish General Staff said on Oct. 4.

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This marked the first major Turkish military exercise near the Syrian border since the revolt against President Bashar Assad in March. Over the last month, Turkey has warned Assad of deteriorating relations amid his bloody crackdown on the opposition, in which nearly 3,000 people were killed.

For his part, Bashar Assad was said to have issued his first direct threat against Israel. On Oct. 4, Assad told Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that Syria was capable of launching a missile war with Israel, Middle East Newsline reported.

"If a crazy measure is taken against Damascus, I will need not more than six hours to transfer hundreds of rockets and missiles to the Golan Heights to fire them at Tel Aviv," Assad was quoted by Iran's official Fars News Agency as saying. "All these events will happen in three hours, but in the second three hours, Iran will attack the U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf and U.S. and European interests will be targeted."

The Turkish military said the 39th Mechanized Infantry Brigade and 730 reserve troops would participate in the exercise in Hatay. Hatay has long been claimed by Syria, but Assad was said to have shelved his demands for the territory amid the promise of water and other Turkish benefits.

"The exercise aims to test mobilization of and communications between the ministries, public institutions and the Turkish military in case of war," the General Staff said.

This marked the first year that Syria and Turkey have not conducted joint military exercises. The maneuvers had been designed to enhance border security and encourage joint development.

Instead, Turkey has hosted nearly 10,000 refugees who fled the Assad crackdown on the opposition. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, under pressure to establish a buffer zone along the Syrian border, said his government would soon announce sanctions on Damascus.

"What is important to us is the Syrian people," Erdogan, who plans to visit Hatay over the next few days, said on Oct. 4. "Freedom there has been disregarded. We never expected that."

Earlier, officials said Turkey, with the second largest army in NATO, was blocking all weapons shipments to Syria and stopped one ship from Iran. They cited Syrian Army attacks on Sunni rebels in towns near the Turkish border.

One refugee to Turkey was identified as Syrian Army Col. Riad Assad, who joined the revolt against the regime. Assad arrived in Turkey on Oct. 4, saying he had been a leading target of the Assad invasion of Rastan.

"We live in a safe place in Turkey," Assad, not known to be related to the Syrian president, said.

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