(photo credit: Reuters)
ANTAKYA, Turkey - A general in the rebel Free Syria Army said on Friday that Syrian government forces had amassed around 170 tanks north of the city Aleppo, near the Turkish border, but there was no independent confirmation of the report.
General Mustafa al-Sheikh, head of the Higher Military Council, an association of senior officers who defected from Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces, said the tanks had assembled at the Infantry School near the village of Musalmieh northeast of the city of Aleppo, 30 kms (19 miles) from the Turkish border.
"The tanks are now at the Infantry School. They're either preparing to move to the border to counter the Turkish deployment or attack the rebellious (Syrian) towns and villages in and around the border zone north of Aleppo," Sheikh told Reuters by telephone from the border.
He said the tanks were mostly from the 17th Mechanized Division.
Turkey deployed air defense weaponry along its border with Syria on Thursday, following Syria's downing of a Turkish warplane over the Mediterranean on Friday. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan gave orders to react to any Syrian threat approaching the frontier.
Erdogan, who has given shelter in the border area to rebels fighting Syrian's Assad, announced the new rules of engagement for Turkish troops on the border after Syrian air defenses shot down a Turkish warplane last Friday.
"I can confirm there are troops being deployed along the border in Hatay province. Turkey is taking precautions after its jet was shot down," a Turkish official said on condition of anonymity.
He said he did not know how many troops or vehicles were being moved but said they were being stationed in the Yayladagi, Altinozu and Reyhanli border areas of Turkey's southern Hatay province. He said anti-aircraft guns were also being stationed along the border.
A military convoy of vehicles including anti-aircraft missile launchers from the 5th Mechanized Armoured Brigade left a base in the southeastern city of Gaziantep on Thursday and traveled to neighboring Kilis province on the border, video from the Turkish Dogan news agency showed.