The tanks were amassed near the village of Musalmieh northeast of Aleppo, 30 kilometers from Turkish border, Gen. Mustafa al-Sheikh, head of the Higher Military Council, an association of senior officers who defected from President Bashar al-Assad's forces, was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Helicopter gunships bombarded a strategic town in northern Syria overnight and tanks moved close to the commercial hub of Aleppo but kept well clear of new Turkish air defenses installed to curb Syrian action near its frontiers.
In a related development, missile launchers placed in Hatay province near the Syrian border were directed towards Syria on Friday. Furthermore, M113A2 missile launchers capable of shooting eight Stinger missiles at once were deployed to different points in Hatay on the same day, according to Turkish media outlets.
Fortification on both sides of the border comes in the wake of the downing of a Turkish military jet last Friday by Syria over the Mediterranean. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said earlier this week that Syria is now an open security threat for Turkey, adding that any Syrian military unit approaching the border will be treated as a threat. A convoy of Turkish military vehicles, including advanced air-defense weaponry as well as troops, has been sent to border provinces of Kilis and Hatay since then.
Amid rising tensions between Turkey and Syria, the National Security Council (MGK), Turkey's highest national security body, discussed the Syrian attack on the Turkish plane in detail during their regular meeting on Thursday. “Turkey will act with determination against this violent act by reserving all rights under international law,” a statement said released after the meeting, without further elaboration.
Turkey has said the Syrian attack will not go unpunished but has also made clear that it has no intention of declaring war on its southern neighbor. The government is reportedly planning some sort of retaliation, but its timing and circumstances will be decided by the government, according to unconfirmed reports in the Turkish media.
Ankara has also taken the dispute to NATO, in response to which the alliance condemned Syria and vowed solidarity with Turkey.
Turkish diplomatic sources on Friday denied reports that Turkey raised the issue of establishing a no-fly zone near its southern border during the NATO meeting held to discuss Syria's shooting down of the Turkish plane under Article 4 of the NATO Charter on Tuesday. Article 4 allows a NATO member country to request consultations if its security has been threatened.
“We never mentioned a no-fly zone into Syria during the meeting. The consultations on the issue will continue under NATO law,” said a Foreign Ministry official to Today's Zaman on Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A senior NATO official also was quoted as saying on Friday that Turkey has not asked for any specific action by the alliance. “What they wanted was to make sure that NATO is with them if it comes to defense of their territory," the official told The Washington Post. "We have plans for the defense of Turkey. They exist; they have long existed,” the official said.
The official also emphasized that although Turkey has kept the alliance apprised of its actions, the new deployments “are measures they are taking themselves.”