No manís land
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Turkey's tensions with Syria show regional powers were bound to get involved in the Syrian conflict
Beginning midnight Saturday, local time, Turkish civilian planes are no longer allowed to fly over Syria. This move by Damascus is the latest in a series of incidents that has heightened tensions between the two neighbours. Only a few days ago, Turkey intercepted a Syria-bound plane that Ankara claims was carrying Russian munitions meant for the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus. Turkey hasn't announced a ban on Syrian overflight, only threatening to ground all Syria-bound flights it suspects of transporting military cargo. But Damascus claims its own ban is retaliatory. This comes after several days of cross-border firing in which five Turkish civilians were killed earlier this month, with the Turkish parliament sanctioning military action against Syria for the next year.
Behind this Turkish assertiveness is not only Ankara's backing of the Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime, but also a history of failure. Turkey had earlier helped bring Syria out of its international isolation after Assad's promise to Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he would implement reforms. This promise was not kept. While this damaged Turkey's reputation as a mediator, the stream of Syrian refugees flowing into Turkey didn't help matters. So much so, that Erdogan has been campaigning for a UN-mandated buffer zone inside Syria.
Turkey is not at war with Syria, and its parliament claims its sanction of military action is only a matter of "deterrence". So, despite all talk of non-intervention, Turkey's stand amounts precisely to the sort of intervention that could escalate the Syrian conflict into something bigger, if not a full-scale regional war. Given the fact that Syria has come to symbolise the central fissure of the Middle East, regional powers were bound to get involved after the failure of the UN Security Council to pass resolutions on Syria.
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