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Turkey Boosts Forces at Syrian Border

A Turkish military truck transports a mobile missile launcher to the Syrian border, near Kilis, Turkey, June 28, 2012. (AP).
ISTANBUL - Turkey said Thursday it is stationing anti-aircraft batteries on its border with Syria following the downing of one of its warplanes.

The military movements follow Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's announcement Tuesday that the rules of engagement have been changed with Syria and that any Syrian forces approaching the border can be considered a military threat.

Still, Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal says the new measures are purely defensive.

"This last incident, shooting down of an unarmed plane without warning, increased the gravity of the situation," said Unal. "That's why we think every kind of move around our borders could be a very dangerous threat towards Turkey's national security."

Unal said last month Syrian helicopters violated Turkish airspace five times, and that Ankara had filed diplomatic complaints to Damascus. Now under the new rules of engagement, the Turkish army can engage any Syrian forces that even approach the border.

But Ankara refuses to specify how close Syrian forces have to be before being deemed a threat. Again, Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Unal:

"We reserve our right emanating from international law, to respond and take necessary steps at our choosing time and method," he said.

New Turkish anti-aircraft systems have already been placed on the border with Syria. Syrian government forces are relying heavily on helicopters to combat the rebels and prevent arms smuggling across the border. There are reports that arms smuggling to the rebels from Turkish territory has markedly increased.

Foreign ministry spokesman Unal denies Turkey's support.

"I have personally denied such reports and this policy will continue" he said. "Turkey does not send armed elements, neither arms to any neighboring country including Syria."

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was once an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but relations have broken down since the revolt erupted in Syria last year. Turkey closed its embassy in Damascus earlier this year after kicking out the Syrian ambassador to Ankara.