Turkey bans Syrian planes from its air space, rebels gain
By Angus MacSwan and Khaled Yacoub Oweis
BEIRUT/AMMAN (Reuters) - Turkey has banned all Syrian aircraft from its air space as it takes an increasingly firm stance against President Bashar al-Assad, while Syrian rebels said on Sunday they had made more gains in a key province near the Turkish border.
Human Rights Watch said Syrian government forces had dropped Russian-made cluster bombs over civilian areas in the past week as they battled to reverse rebel advances, an act which rights groups say can constitute a war crime.
NATO-member Turkey has increasingly taken on a leadership role in the international coalition ranked against Assad.
Turkish confrontation with Syria increased in the past two weeks because of cross-border shelling and escalated on October 10 when Ankara forced down a Syrian airliner en route from Moscow, accusing it of carrying Russian munitions for Assad's military.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Sunday Turkish air space had been closed to Syrian planes. Syria banned Turkish planes from flying over its territory on Saturday.
"We made a new decision yesterday and informed Syria. We closed our air space to civilian Syrian flights as well as military flights," Davutoglu said.
Russia has said there were no weapons on the ground plane and that it was carrying a legal cargo of radar. But it moved to cool friction with Ankara - Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the incident would not hurt "solid" relations.
The bloodshed inside Syria has worsened markedly in the past two months although neither side has been able to gain a distinct advantage. Combat has been reported nationwide but the crucial strategic battles are being fought in an arc through western Syria, where most of the population lives. Continued...