BEIRUT — NATO is ready to defend alliance member Turkey amid artillery and mortar exchanges with Syria, its top official said Tuesday, as Ankara sent additional fighter jets to reinforce an air base close to the Syria border where tension has escalated dramatically over the past week.
“We hope that all parties involved [in the Syrian crisis] will show restraint and avoid an escalation of the crisis,” Mr. Fogh Rasmussen said.
NATO officials said the plans have been in place for decades and were not drawn up in response to the Syria crisis. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.
In an address to lawmakers from the ruling party, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated that Ankara will continue retaliating for attacks from the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“Every kind of threat to the Turkish territory and the Turkish people will find us standing against it,” Mr. Erdogan said. “Soldiers loyal to Assad threw shells at us, we immediately reacted and responded with double force. We shall never stop responding.”
Analysts say Syria appears to be intentionally escalating tensions along the border with Turkey to send a message to its northern neighbor that it will pay a high price for its support of the Syrian rebels, hoping that will deter any foreign military intervention in the almost-19-month-old civil war.
At least 25 additional F-16 fighter jets were deployed at Turkey’s Diyarbakir air base in the southeast late Monday, Turkey’s Dogan news agency said, quoting unidentified military sources. The military’s chief of staff inspected troops along the border with Syria on Tuesday.
The reinforcement of the Diyarbakir base also bolsters Turkish forces along the volatile Iraqi border. Turkish jets struck Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq in two separate cross-border raids Sunday despite recent warnings from Baghdad against any military operations on its territory.
Relations between Turkey and Iraq also have been deteriorating over a Turkish decision to shelter convicted Iraq’s Sunni vice president on charges of running death squads.