Syria bans Turkey civilian flights over its territory

Tanks in Sanliurfa province 12 Oct 2012 Turkish tanks have taken up position near the border following the rise in tensions

Turkish civilian planes are no longer allowed to fly over Syria, Damascus has said, amid growing tensions between the two neighbouring countries.

The ban took effect at midnight (2100GMT) on Saturday.

This comes just days after Turkey intercepted a Syrian-bound plane, claiming it carried Russian-made munitions for the Syrian army.

Syria has described the claim as a lie, challenging Ankara to put the seized goods on public view.

The Syrian foreign ministry said its ban on Turkish flights was in retaliation for a similar move from Ankara.

Turkey has not announced such a measure, although it has said it will continue to ground Syrian civilian planes it suspects are carrying military cargo.

Cluster bomb claim

Tensions have been recently rising between the two countries after a series of cross-border incidents.

Last week, there were several days of firing across the border after five Turkish civilians were killed by Syrian shelling.

Analysis

Until last year, Turkey and Syria were close allies. Now the only things that they still share are a border of 500 miles and an increasing sense of mistrust.

The two governments have confirmed that their mutual suspicion officially extends all the way up to 30,000ft.

Each country has decided to close its airspace to the other's airlines. Syria had the slight pleasure of managing to announce its ban half a day before Turkey's.

The ban may not have much of an impact on direct air traffic between the two countries. Turkish Airlines says that it stopped direct flights to Damascus in the spring of 2012.

Comparison websites still offer Istanbul-Damascus fares - but all flights go via Cairo.

Turkey's government has backed the Syrian opposition and called for the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad.

In Syria itself, there were reports on Saturday that rebels had shot down a Syrian military jet outside Aleppo - the town at the centre of recent fighting.

Footage posted online showed the burning wreckage of what appeared to be an aircraft, but the claim has not been independently verified.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has accused the government of President Assad of dropping cluster bombs - which are banned by more than 100 countries - into populated areas.

The group said there was a number of credible reports that the number of cluster bomb strikes had increased dramatically in recent days.

Syria refuses to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans the use of such weapons.

In a separate development, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan told a conference in Istanbul that the UN's failure to act in Syria gave President Assad the green light to kill tens or hundreds of people every day.

Turkey may not be at war with Syria, but it is now increasingly involved in its neighbour's conflict, the BBC's James Reynolds in Turkey reports.

Mr Erdogan's comments come as the UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, had talks in Istanbul with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to hear Ankara's perspective on the crisis.

No breakthroughs were expected, and none were reported after the meeting, our correspondent says.

How a cluster bomb works

cluster bomb graphic

1. The cluster bomb, in this case a CBU-87, is dropped from a plane and can fly about nine miles before releasing its load of about 200 bomblets.

2. The canister starts to spin and opens at an altitude between 1,000m and 100m, spraying the bomblets across a wide area.

3. Each bomblet is the size of a drink can and contains hundreds of metal pieces. When it explodes, it can cause deadly injuries up to 25m away.

More than 100 countries have signed a treaty banning the use of cluster munitions through the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

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