Elizabeth A. Kennedy
BEIRUT: Turkey deployed anti-aircraft guns, rocket launchers and other weapons along its border with Syria on Thursday, a military buildup that came as world powers showed new urgency to resolve the crisis before it ignites the region.
A bomb exploded in central Damascus near a busy market and the country’s main justice complex, wounding at least three people, damaging cars in a parking lot and sending a black cloud rising above the Syrian capital. It was not clear who was behind the bombing.
Much of the violence that has gripped Syria since an uprising began in March 2011 has been sanctioned by the government of President Bashar Assad to crush dissent. Activists say more than 14,000 people have been killed.
But rebel fighters are launching increasingly deadly attacks on regime targets, and several massive suicide attacks this year suggest al-Qaida or other extremists are joining the fray.
Assad told Iranian state TV Thursday that his country still supports him, and he warned that any intervention in Syria will cause a “domino” effect in the region. He has given similar warnings before, saying the entire Middle East will go up in flames if others meddle in his country.
Turkey, a former ally of Syria, has become one of the strongest critics of the Assad regime, and tension between the two countries spiked following the downing of a Turkish military plane last week.
A small convoy of Turkish military trucks towing anti-aircraft guns entered a military outpost in the border village of Guvecci, which faces a Syrian military outpost, according to TRT television video.
Several anti-aircraft guns also have been deployed elsewhere along the border. Some trucks were seen carrying self-propelled multiple rocket launchers, the video showed.
Ties between Turkey and Syria have not been this low since the late 1990s, when the neighbors almost went to war. Tensions ran high in the 1980s and 1990s as Turkey developed military ties with Israel and Syria sheltered Turkish Kurd guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan.
Now, Turkey is hosting civilian opposition groups as well as hundreds of military defectors who are affiliated with the rebel Free Syrian Army.
Syria insists the Turkish military plane it shot down on June 22 had violated its airspace. Turkey says the jet had unintentionally strayed into Syria’s airspace and was inside international airspace when it was brought down over the Mediterranean by Syria.
The search for two missing pilots continued in Syrian waters but hopes for their survival are dim, Turkish authorities said. The Turkish military said searchers have found some pieces of the plane and equipment belonging to the pilots.
Syria’s state-run TV said the bombing occurred at 1 p.m. in the parking lot of the Palace of Justice, a compound that houses several courts. The site is near the capital’s famous Hamidiyeh Market, an area crowded with families stocking up on food and other supplies for the weekend, which begins on Friday in Syria.
Witnesses reported hearing one blast, but state-run TV said there were two. The report also said a roadside bomb was found but did not explode.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene said some cars were charred and many windshields were blown out.