Suspected Iran-Syria arms traffic via Turkey raises questions
Turkish authorities have confiscated five trucks suspected of carrying military equipment from Iran to Syria over the past few days, raising concerns over the escalation of violence in Syria and prompting an opposition deputy to pose a formal question to the government about the recent trucks bound for Syria, Today's Zaman reported.
In a formal question to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Gaziantep deputy Mehmet Seker of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) asked the government on Thursday to disclose the content of the cargo of the seized trucks, where they came from and to clarify whether allegations that they were carrying arms from Syria to Iran were true.
Acting on a tip-off, authorities have confiscated a total of five trucks this week, four on Sunday and another one on Tuesday. Last year, a truck said to be full of explosives was held by Turkish authorities for 10 months before eventually being transferred to a military warehouse, and no statement has been made to the public so far regarding what it was carrying.
The Iranian Embassy in Ankara denied on Thursday that the trucks being held at Turkish customs were carrying military equipment from Iran to Syria. Drivers of the four trucks seized on Sunday also denied the allegations that they were carrying arms, telling the private Cihan news agency on Tuesday that their cargo consisted of raw materials used in the leather industry, water pipes and iron.
Turkish authorities, on the other hand, said an investigation into the matter was under way. "These trucks are subject to control regarding the goods they carry and the investigation continues," Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said on Thursday. Unal said the Turkish customs authorities have the authority to extensively inspect any vehicles transiting Turkish territory when they deem it necessary. "Authorities are looking into whether these trucks are carrying materials in violation of Turkish or international laws, as well as the UN Security Council decisions," or Turkey's other international obligations, Unal said.
Turkey has implemented an arms embargo against Syria in protest of President Bashar al-Assad's violent crackdown on anti-regime protests. In August, Turkish authorities intercepted an arms shipment from Iran to Syria and seized the cargo of a Syria-bound Iranian plane in March because it breached UN sanctions. The Turkish media reported that the aircraft was carrying light weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket launchers and mortars.
In a statement earlier this week, Kilis Governor Yusuf Odabas said the authorities had received a tip-off that the trucks were carrying equipment used in weapon production. The trucks were seized by customs authorities on the basis of this tip-off and the Undersecretariat of Customs has already notified the Ministry of Customs and Trade and the Prime Ministry about the seizure, he said. "Right now, we are waiting [for the outcome of investigation]," he said, adding that the fate of the trucks will be clear after an inspection by experts and consultations with the Foreign Ministry.
Turkey abandoned its past friendship with Assad to side with the protesters, and has set up camps on its southeastern border to host thousands of refugees who have fled the violence in their homeland. It also allows Syrian opposition groups to meet on its territory.
Syria, also suspended from the Arab League, still maintains good relations with Iran, partly because of sectarian ties. Assad's minority Alawite sect has links with Shiite Islam followed in Iran. Most of Turkey's Muslims, like the majority of Syrians, are Sunni.