Conflict threat as Turkish jets buzz Syria

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The Independent Online
IN AN ATTEMPT to defuse the growing threat of war between Syria and Turkey over Syrian support for Kurdish rebels,Egypt's President, Hosni Mubarak, flew to Damascus yesterday for talks with President Hafez al-Assad.

Mr Mubarak was due to fly on to Ankara today for talks with the Turkish government.

Turkish jets buzzed the Syrian border on Friday and the Turkish army is to stage war games from 21 October along Turkey's 550-mile border with Syria. Damascus says it rejects "the policies of confrontation, escalation and threats from any party".

"There is a state of undeclared war between us and Syria," said Husseyin Kivriloglu, the Turkish chief of staff. "We are trying to be patient, but that has a limit."

Guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) havefought for the self-determination of the Turkish Kurds since 1984, and 29,000 people have died in the fighting. The PKK's ability to retreat from eastern Turkey into northern Syria and Iraq is blamed by Turkey for its failure to win the war.

Mr Mubarak and other Arab leaders are worried by the crisis between Syria and Turkey because of Turkey's growing military links with Israel. Israeli air force jets use Turkish airspace for training and Israel is upgrading Turkish fighter aircraft.

The Arab world fears that, with Syria facing the Turkish and Israeli armies on two fronts, the overall Arab position would be weakened.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, said yesterday that his country had no part in the crisis. He said: "We've taken steps to reassure Syria that we are not going to use any of this to our advantage, or to change the status quo on the border between Syria and Israel."

The PKK has long used Syrian territory as a base. The PKK also receives strong support from Kurds in Europe.

Turkey is also worried about the emergence of a Kurdish state backed by the US in northern Iraq which would serve as a refuge for its own Kurds.

In a weekend effort to deny the Kurdish guerrillas safehavens, 10,000 Turkish troops pushed into the three Kurdish provinces of northern Iraq, controlled by local Iraqi Kurdish leaders. During its 14-year campaign against the PKK, a Turkish ministers said that the army had destroyed 2,664 villages and made two million Turkish Kurds homeless.