The newspaper reported on Monday that while the European Union is set on tightening sanctions on Bashar Assad's regime, weapons materials from Iran, China and elsewhere may be getting in through Turkey, in spite of Ankara’s tough public stance against Damascus.
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“We don’t think that the Turkish government is openly encouraging the trade but some officials know about it,” one Middle Eastern intelligence source told the newspaper. “Let’s say they are turning a blind eye,” he added.
Erdogan, Assad in better days (Photo: AP)
According to the report, three Turkish companies are selling equipment to a Syrian government research institute that makes vehicle armor and ammunition for the police and the army.
At the heart of the operation is the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) in Syria, currently subject to US and EU sanctions.
“Some of the weapons produced by SSRC are supplied to the Syrian military, while others end up in the hands of the Hezbollah terrorist organization in Lebanon,” the newspaper's source noted.
Claims that the Turkish Government Scientific and Technological Research Council, TÜBITAK, is assisting SSRC with research have also been raised, but TÜBITAK refused comment.
Footage from Syria (AFP/YouTube)
A Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman described the allegations as “nonsense," pointing out that Ankara had recently blocked Syrian weapons shipments.
Last month Turkish customs officials intercepted four Iranian trucks carrying missile materials destined for Syria.
Turkey considers itself legally bound only by UN sanctions, but it has taken its own measures against the Syrian regime, including an arms embargo.
Weapons included protection for armored vehicles (Photo: AFP)
SSRC has been subject to US economic sanctions since 2005 for co-operating with Iran and North Korea and for providing arms to Hezbollah. It is also listed under the EU's sanctions "black list" imposed in December last year.
According to The Times' intelligence source, the SSRC disguises its procurement of weapons-related material by making false declarations to export authorities and using brokers and cover companies in different countries.
The intelligence document said Turkey and Syria had a 560-mile border and close business links. The two countries signed a free trade agreement in 2004, and the annual trade volume between them grew to 1.3 billion British Pounds Sterling ($2.06 billion) in 2010.
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