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Turkey holds talks on Syria as cross-border tensions rise

The UN-Arab League peace envoy to Syria and the German foreign minister are holding talks in Istanbul with Turkish leaders. The talks come amid escalating cross-border tensions between Syria and Turkey.

The UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle arrived in Istanbul on Saturday just days after Turkish fighter jets intercepted a Syrian passenger plane from Moscow to Damascus.

Turkey forced the passenger plane to land outside of Ankara late on Wednesday under suspicion that it was carrying weapons to Syria. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodgan said on Thursday that Russian-made munitions were seized from the aircraft. The Syrian plane was later freed to continue on its journey.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the passenger plane was carrying dual-use radar equipment. Dual-use refers to equipment that has both civilian and military applications.

"This cargo is electrical technical equipment for radar stations, this is dual-purpose equipment, but is not forbidden by any international conventions," Lavrov said.

Moscow is Syria's most important arms supplier and maintains a naval center in the Syrian city of Tartus, Russia's only port on the Mediterranean Sea. Both China and Russia have vetoed three UN draft resolutions aimed at sanctioning the regime of President Bashar Assad.

US says Moscow broke no rules

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland acknowledged that Russia had not broken any of its international obligations by allowing the cargo on board the Syrian plane. But she condemned Moscow's support of the Assad regime as "morally bankrupt."

"Everybody else on the Security Council is doing what it can unilaterally to ensure that the Assad regime is not getting support from the outside," Nuland said.

"We have been saying for almost a year now, that no responsible country ought to be aiding and abetting the war machine of the Assad regime," she added.

Turkey-Syria border clashes

The forced landing of the Damascus-bound passenger plane is the latest confrontation between Turkey and Syria. The two neighbors exchanged artillery fire across their common border several times last week, after a Syrian shell had landed in the Turkish border town of Akcakale on October 3, killing five civilians.

The Turkish parliament subsequently authorized the government to launch cross-border raids into Syria if necessary. Some 100,000 refugees have fled to Turkey, and the rebel Free Syrian Army has used Turkish territory as a staging ground.

UN-Arab League envoy Brahimi, who held talks in Saudi Arabia on Friday, has admitted that he does not have a detailed peace plan to end the civil war in Syria. Brahimi took over his post from former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, who resigned out of frustration with division on the Security Council.

jlw, slk/mkg (AP, AFP, dpa)