NATO backs Turkey in standoff with Syria

Associated Press Modified: October 9, 2012 at 12:32 pm •  Published: October 9, 2012
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Ankara's reluctance to go it alone in Syria was voiced Tuesday by Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan.

"Whichever step we take, it will be taken in consultation with our friends and our allies and in agreement with them," he said. "This is not a Syrian-Turkish bilateral issue, it is a humanitarian issue and we think that at the same time it's an issue that should be viewed as a regional security issue. The Arab League is involved, the Islamic Conference Organization is involved and NATO is a part of it."

Syrian opposition activists estimate more than 32,000 people have been killed since March 2011 when the uprising against Assad's regime began. Initially, regime opponents launched a wave of peaceful protests that were met by repeated attacks by security forces, and the conflict has gradually turned into bloody civil war that has motivated tens of thousands of civilians to flee Syria. The fighting has devastated entire neighborhoods in Syria's main cities, including Aleppo in the north. Syria's government has always blamed the uprising on what it calls foreign terrorists.

A Sunni extremist group called Jabhat al-Nusra claimed responsibility for an attack on Syrian air force intelligence compound in the Damascus suburb of Harasta Monday evening. A statement on a militant website by the group's media arm, Al-Manara al-Bayda, said the bombing aimed "to avenge the killing of Muslims and those who suffered injustice."

The Syrian state-run news agency did not report the explosion and there were conflicting reports on how badly the compound was damaged. There were no official reports on casualties, but the pro-government Al-Ikhbariya channel said on Monday the blast was heard across Damascus.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency, reported that Syrian Nation Council leader Abdulbaset Sieda visited rebel-controlled areas in Syria on Tuesday.

It said he entered Syria from the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and "made observations in rural areas" of Idlib province before traveling to Aleppo's Etarib area where he met with commanders of the Free Syrian Army. If confirmed, the trip would be Sieda's first into Syria since he became the council's leader in June.

Anadolu quoted Sieda as saying: "We are here to see what the opposition in Syria and the opposition outside of Syria can do together to serve the Syrian people."

Sieda made the trip ahead of an Oct. 15-17 meeting of Syrian opposition groups in Qatar.

Meanwhile, two Syrian rebels told The Associated Press that seven military and intelligence officers belonging to Syria's ruling Alawite minority have defected to Jordan. The rebels said they helped the seven cross into Jordan on Monday, and that the highest-ranking figure among them was an army colonel.

Defections by Alawites, who make up the backbone of Assad's regime, are relatively uncommon. Almost all the defections have been from Syria's Sunni majority, who dominate the rebellion.

Three other Alawite intelligence officials came to Jordan three weeks ago, said the two rebels, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from the Assad regime. Jordanian officials declined comment.

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Jordans reported from Istanbul. AP writers Barbara Surk and Zeina Karam in Beirut, and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.

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