In a sign of escalating tensions, Turkey diverted its civilian planes Friday to avoid using Syrian airspace. The two neighbors have been engaged in a diplomatic tussle since Turkish civilians died in cross-border shelling last week.
Turkey imposed the new route for Jeddah-bound planes because it considers Syrian airspace unsafe, according to the official Turkish news agency.
The route mostly affects pilgrims going to Saudi Arabia. Planes will use airspace belonging to Jordan and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, said TRT, the news agency.
Before the changes, Turkish civilian planes flew to Jeddah over Aleppo and Hatay Kamısli.
Turkish civilian planes leaving from Europe will use Egyptian airspace to go to Jeddah, the news agency said.
The move comes after Turkey used F-16 warplanes to force a Syrian airliner to land at Ankara’s airport for a search Wednesday. A week before the forced landing, Syrian forces killed Turkish civilians in cross-border shelling.
Once the airliner landed, Turkey confiscated “items … traveling from Russia’s agency that exports weapons munitions and military supplies to Syria’s defense ministry,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday.
The Syrian Information Ministry rejected Turkey’s claim. Turkish officials have not specified the exact contents of the plane.
Turkey has intercepted Iranian shipments of arms headed to Syria through Turkish territory and airspace over the past year. In those cases, the government remained similarly silent about the nature of those shipments, perhaps to avoid embarrassing Iran, a neighbor and major Turkish trading partner.
Once-strong relations between Turkey and Syria have grown tense over the past year after the Syrian government began a bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters. Ankara backs the anti-government rebels and has called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
More recently, the two neighbors exchanged artillery fire following the death of five civilians killed by a Syrian shell that fell into a Turkish border village.
On the ground
Regime forces raided neighborhoods in Damascus and the city’s suburbs early Friday, according to the Local Coordination Committees for Syria, a network of opposition activists.
At least 20 people were killed across Syria, including seven Free Syrian Army soldiers, opposition activists said. The Free Syrian Army is the main armed opposition group in Syria.
CNN cannot confirm reports of violence or casualty counts in Syria because the government has restricted access to international journalists.