Turkey assures Syria on Israeli strike

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DAMASCUS, Oct 7 (Reuters) Turkey assured the Damascus government today it would not let Israel use its airspace to strike Syria after an Israeli raid heightened tension in the Middle East.

Diplomats said at least four Israeli planes flew in attack formation along the Syrian-Turkish border before striking deep into Syria on September 6. Syria and Israel have given little information on the target.

''Turkey will not let Turkish territory or airspace be used in any activity that could harm the security or safety of Syria,'' Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said after meeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

Babacan said he chose Syria as his first destination abroad since being named foreign minister in August to underline the importance of maintaining strong Turkish-Syrian ties. He is due to visit Israel next.

The minister, a member of the Islamist-rooted AK party, repeated Turkey's assertions that Ankara had no prior knowledge of the Israeli raid, which Assad said had targeted an unused building linked to the Syrian military.

''I hope that during my visit to Israel to be given answers and clarifications about this issue,'' Babacan said. ''The region is at a very dangerous and sensitive stage. We always urge all parties to reach solutions through dialogue and peaceful means.'' Turkey and Syria have built closer security and economic ties in recent years despite persisting water disputes and past Syrian support for Kurdish rebels.

Ankara, a member of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, also has good ties with Israel and allows Israeli planes to train on its territory, according to diplomats in Damascus.

Israel confirmed this month that it had carried out an air strike on Syria. Syrian officials have not ruled out the possibility of another Israeli raid.

Several US officials have linked the raid to apparent Israeli suspicions of secret nuclear cooperation between Damascus and North Korea. Diplomats suggested the intended target may have involved missiles supplied by North Korea, playing down reports of a nuclear link.

The raid came after speculation that Syria and Israel could resume peace talks that collapsed in 2000 over the scope of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, a plateau which Israel occupied in 1967.

Syria has called for the Golan issue to be on the agenda of a peace conference in November sponsored by the United States, Israel's chief ally. Babacan said the Golan should be part of any Middle East settlement.

''Syria's participation is necessary to reach solutions,'' he said. ''The peace process must proceed along all tracks, including the Syrian one.'' REUTERS PDT RN2047

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