Author:Gorvett, Jon

Jon Gorvett reports from Istanbul on Turkey's worsening relations with Syria.

Opening the new session of the Turkish parliament in October, President Suleyman Demirel broke with the tradition of innocuous presidential addresses and blasted neighbouring Syria -- along with his own fellow parliamentarians.

"We retain the right to counter Syria, which has not given up its hostile attitude despite all our warnings and peaceful approaches," the president said. "Our patience is running out and we retain the right to retaliate."

This sudden outburst has followed a long period of quietly smouldering tensions between the two countries. On this particular occasion the immediate lead-in was a meeting of Turkey's all-powerful and military dominated National Security Council on 30 September, which discussed allegations that Syria has been supporting the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a group outlawed in Turkey and which has been conducting a protracted guerrilla campaign in the southeast of the country aimed at winning an autonomous Kurdish state.

The PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, has long been claimed by Turkey to be living in Damascus, while the PKK headquarters is reported to be located in the Syrian controlled Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.

This scenario falls against a wider background of tension between Ankara and Damascus over a number of other issues. First of all, there is the growing alliance between Turkey and Israel, which Syria feels is aimed specifically against itself.

Conversely, Ankara sees Syria as part of a chain of hostile states surrounding it -- from Greece to Iraq to Iran to Armenia -- all of which it has accused at some time or other of aiding and abetting the PKK, with some justification.

Second, there is the issue of an outstanding territorial claim that Damascus has on the southern Turkish province of Hatay, the location of ancient Antioch. The province was handed to Turkey following a plebiscite in 1939 by Syria's then colonial rulers, France.

Damascus disputes the legitimacy of this and recently stated that once the Golan Heights issue had been sorted out with Israel, it would be the "turn of Hatay". Turkish Land Forces Commander, Atilla Ates, visited the region just before Demirel's speech, and prefigured the president's remarks there by saying of Syria, "We are...

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