ISTANBUL—Armored Turkish military units—including antiaircraft guns and other weapons—began moving toward the Syrian border, Turkish media reported Thursday, as tensions along the neighbors' long border continued to escalate.
Government and military officials would not immediately confirm that a new deployment was under way, but Turkish television networks reported Thursday that a convoy of 12 military trucks, including short-range antiaircraft missiles, was moving toward a base in a border town housing a large camp for Syrian refugees. That followed reports from state-run Anadolu news agency late on Wednesday that some 30 military vehicles, including heavy armor, had moved to the border from Iskenderun base on the Mediterranean. That convoy then dispersed to bases along the border, accompanied by police and gendarmerie teams for security, the news agency said.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses lawmakers in Ankara.
The increased military mobilization followed a Tuesday statement from Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan responding to the Friday downing of a Turkish military jet by Syria. Mr. Erdogan warned his one-time ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that Ankara had changed its rules of engagement to perceive "any Syrian military elements" at the Turkish border as a threat, and reserved the right to respond accordingly.
A spokesman for Turkey's general staff would not confirm that an additional mobilization was taking place but said that Turkish military deployment usually reflects the country's rules of engagement. A Turkish foreign ministry official also didn't confirm that a new deployment had taken place.
Analysts said that the increased mobilization was a logical consequence of Ankara adopting a more defensive military posture toward Damascus.
"This activity has largely to do with the requirements of the change in rules of engagement," said Kamer Kasim, the deputy chairman of an Ankara-based think-tank, International Strategic Research Organization, or USAK.
Turkey shares a 565-mile border with Syria, but there has been a relatively low military presence along that frontier since 1999, when the Kurdish militant group the Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK, relocated its bases in Syria to Northern Iraq, following the capture of its leader, Abdullah Ocalan.
"There is the heightened perception of the potential for terrorist attacks along that border now, as Syria's regime is said to support the PKK, so that also requires a higher military presence," Mr. Kamer said.
A Syrian minister on Wednesday appeared to try to calm tensions with Ankara, stressing that his country's forces may have mistaken the Turkish plane they shot down for an Israeli one.
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoebi was quoted as telling Turkish news channel A Haber in a telephone interview Wednesday that his country did "not want a crisis between Turkey and Syria."
Mr. al-Zoebi said Turkish and Israeli fighter jets were mostly U.S.-made, which may have led the Syrian forces to mistake it for an Israeli jet.
Most analysts say that despite the prospect of an increased military buildup, the chance of armed conflict between Turkey and Syria remains slim, as Ankara isn't prepared to shoulder the burden of a potentially long and bloody war. Turkish and Syrian officials have repeatedly said that neither side is looking for a confrontation.
Despite Ankara's more hawkish posture, opinion polling in Turkey suggests that the majority of the public remains firmly opposed to military conflict with Syria. According to a survey published earlier this month by independent Turkish think-tank EDAM before the jet was downed, 41% of Turks oppose any intervention at all, while almost 15% say Turkey should create a buffer zone inside Syria. Almost 12% said Turkey should stage a military intervention, while some 8% backed supporting the opposition Free Syrian Army fighters with arms.
Some analysts argue that Turkey's more aggressive rules of engagement could tilt the dynamic along the border, which has become an incubator for Syrian antigovernment rebels who are seeking increased levels of international support. Turkey's pledge to respond to aggression from Syrian forces could help the Free Syrian Army by deterring Syrian forces from attacking—or else result in Turkish retaliation for cross-border attacks on rebels.
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