By Jonathon Burch
ANKARA, July 2 (Reuters) - Turkey scrambled six F-16 fighter jets in three separate incidents responding to Syrian military helicopters approaching the border on Sunday, its armed forces command said on Monday.
It was the second time in as many days Turkish jets were launched in response to Syrian helicopters flying near the border and comes after a Turkish reconnaissance plane was shot down by Syria late last month.
The jets took off from Incirlik air base in southern Turkey after Syrian helicopters were spotted flying south of the Turkish province of Hatay, the chief of general staff said on the military's website.
Two helicopters had come within 2.5 miles (4 km) and one had come within 2 miles (3.2 km) of the border, it said. Two of the helicopters were MI-8 type aircraft and one was an MI-17, all Russian-built transport helicopters.
On Sunday, Turkey said it had scrambled six F-16s near its border with Syria after similar transport helicopters were spotted flying either within 4 miles (6.4 km) of the border or "close" to the border.
Turkey's heightened military activity along its southern border comes after Syria shot down one of its jets over the Mediterranean on June 22, prompting a sharp rebuke from Ankara which said it would respond "decisively".
Turkey has beefed up its troop presence and air defences along the border since the incident and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said the military's rules of engagement had been changed and that any Syrian element approaching Turkey's border and deemed a threat would be treated as a military target.
Syria says it shot down the Turkish jet in self-defence and that it was brought down in Syrian air space. Turkey says the jet accidentally violated Syrian air space for a few minutes but was brought down in international air space.
While the incident has heightened tension between the once-close allies, neither Turkey, which fears a local clash escalating into a regional sectarian conflict, nor Syria, has any interest in a confrontation on their shared border.
Turkey has become increasingly vocal against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, calling for him to step down, and has given sanctuary to rebels and groups opposing the Syrian leader. There are more than 35,000 Syrian refugees living in camps on the Turkish side of the border with Syria.
Separately, Turkey's armed forces command said it had carried out air strikes on three separate Kurdish militant targets in northern Iraq between the dates of June 26-30.
It said the strikes were carried out in the Qandil and Zab areas and targeted shelters belonging to the "separatist terror organisation", a term used to describe the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which is fighting for greater Kurdish autonomy in Turkey. It gave no further details.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the European Union and the United States. (Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
|@ AmbassadorRice : #Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.|
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say. Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
|@ AlexanderPageSY : Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria|
|@ Reuters : UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS|