Turkey scrambles warplanes to Syrian border – Friday 12 October 2012

Welcome to Middle East Live. Here is a round-up of the latest developments.

The row over Turkey’s interception of a Syrian airliner suspected of carrying weapons rumbles on.

Yesterday Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the plane was carrying military equipment and ammunition from Russia for the Syrian defence ministry.

The Syrian foreign ministry has has now hit back, accusing Erdogan of lying “to justify his government’s hostile attitude towards Syria”, the BBC
reports, citing Syria’s state news agency.

“The plane’s cargo was documented in detail on the bill of lading and the plane did not carry any illegal material or any weapons,” the ministry said, urging Erdogan to “show the equipment and ammunition at least to his people”.

An article in English on the Syrian state news agency’s website says “the plane was carrying no weapons or prohibited goods in accordance with the unblemished international reputation of the Syrian Arab Airlines”.

In the US election, a large part of last night’s vice-presidential debate focused on foreign policy.

Ewen MacAskill, the Guardian’s Washington bureau chief, says that on Iran and Syria, Vice-Presient Joe Biden tried to portray his Republican challenger Paul Ryan as “leaning towards taking the US into another conflict, one that war-weary Americans did not want”.

The New York Times has a full transcript of the debate. On Syria, Biden said:

We are working hand in glove with the Turks, with the Jordanians, with the Saudis and with all the people in the region attempting to identify the people who deserve the help so that when Assad goes and he will go, there will be a legitimate government that follows on, not an al-Qaida-sponsored government that follows on.

And all this loose talk of my friend, Governor Romney, and the congressman about how we’re going to do, we could do so much more in there, what more would they do other than put American boots on the ground? The last thing America needs is to get into another ground war in the Middle East requiring tens of thousands if not well over a hundred thousand American forces. That – they are the facts. They are the facts.

Now, every time the governor is asked about this, he doesn’t say any – he say – he goes up with a whole lot of verbiage, but when he gets pressed, he says, no, he would not do anything different then we are doing now. Are they proposing putting American troops on the ground, putting American aircraft in their airspace? Is that what they’re proposing? If they do, they should speak up and say so. But that’s not what they’re saying.

We are doing it exactly like we need to do to identify those forces who, in fact, will provide for a stable government and not cause a regional Sunni-Shia war when Bassad (ph) – when Bashir (sic; Bashar) Assad falls.

Ryan responded:

Nobody is proposing to send troops to Syria – American troops.

Now let me say it this way. How would we do things differently? We wouldn’t refer Bashar Assad as a reformer when he’s killing his own civilians with his Russian-provided weapons. We wouldn’t be outsourcing our foreign policy to the United Nations, giving Vladimir Putin veto power over our efforts to try and deal with this issue. He’s vetoed three of them. Hillary Clinton went to Russia to try and convince him not to do so; they thwarted her efforts. She said they were on the wrong side of history. She was right about that. This is just one more example of how the Russia reset’s not working.

And so where are we? After international pressure mounted, then President Obama said Bashar Assad should go. It’s been over a year. The man has slaughtered tens of thousands of his own people and more foreign fighters are spilling into this country. So the longer this has gone on, the more people – groups like al-Qaida are going in. We could have more easily identified the Free Syrian Army, the freedom fighters, working with our allies, the Turks, the Qataris, the Saudis, had we had a better plan in place to begin with, working through our allies. But no, we waited for Kofi Annan to try and come up with an agreement through the UN that bought Bashar Assad time. We gave Russia veto power over our efforts through the UN and meanwhile about 30,000 Syrians are dead.

The opposition Local Coordination Committees say 210 people were killed by security forces in Syria yesterday, including 47 in Idlib, 44 in Damascus and its suburbs, 37 in Deir Ezzor, 24 in Daraa, 20 in Homs and 20 in Aleppo.

A large bomb exploded in an area housing security and army compounds west of Umayyad Square in central Damascus on last night, opposition activists say. Two groups, Ahfad al-Rasoul and Ansar al-Islam, said in a joint statement they planted bombs in a compound belonging to state security in the area.

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