Bashar al-Assad: Syria is in 'a state of war'
Bashar al-Assad admitted Syria was in "a state of war" on Tuesday as rebel forces clashed with the military in the suburbs of Damascus and Turkey toughened the rules of engagement for its troops on the countries' shared border.
The Syrian president ordered his new cabinet to focus all its efforts on crushing the 16-month uprising that has left thousands of civilians dead and shaken his grip on power.
"When one is in a state of war, all our policies and capabilities must be used to secure victory," Mr Assad told ministers, according to the state news agency.
As he spoke, his elite Republican Guard troops were involved in fierce clashes with rebel troops just five miles from the centre of the Syrian capital, in a day of fighting that reportedly left 116 people dead across the country.
Meanwhile, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, risked an escalating confrontation as he condemned Syria for the "heinous act" of shooting down the F-4 Phantom last Friday.
This incident deepened antagonism between the two neighbours, sharing a 500-mile border, who have been bitter foes since the onset of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
The "unarmed reconnaissance" plane from the Turkish air force had been struck by a missile inside "international airspace" without any warning, said Mr Erdogan.
Addressing the ruling AK party in Ankara, the prime minister added: "The rules of engagement of the Turkish armed forces have changed given this new development. Any military element that approaches the Turkish border from Syria by posing a security risk and danger will be regarded as a threat and treated as a military target."
In practice, this means that Turkey might go to war with Syria if last Friday's incident were to be repeated, said Umit Ozdag, a leading analyst of Turkish defence policy.
"If they were to hit a Turkish aeroplane a second time, it could cause a war between the two countries," he said. "But I don't believe the Syrians want a war. They know that what they did was really risky."
Earlier this year, a series of shooting incidents took place along the border. Syrian troops repeatedly fired at targets inside Turkey, claiming at least one life. At the time, however, the Turkish army did not react. Under the new rules of engagement, retaliation would probably be authorised.
"If Syrian soldiers try to organise a cross border attack or try to hit targets within Turkey like they did a few months ago, then the Turkish army will hit targets in Syria," said Mr Ozdag.
Turkish officials concede the F-4 briefly entered Syrian airspace, but the crew are said to have realised their mistake and changed course accordingly. A missile then destroyed the aircraft as it flew over the Mediterranean.
At first, Mr Erdogan declined to condemn Syria, waiting for the facts to be established. Yesterday he said: "Our mild manners do not mean we are a tame lamb. Everybody should know that Turkey's wrath is just as strong and devastating as its friendship is valuable."
By shooting down the jet, Syria had exposed itself to greater pressure, said Anthony Cordesman, head of strategy at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"Syria has almost invited Turkey to become even more proactive against it and against the Assad regime. Erdogan is not someone who's famous for backing down," he said.
Turkey, a member of Nato, invoked Article IV of the North Atlantic Treaty, convening the alliance's ambassadors in Brussels to discuss the incident. This move fell short of triggering Article V, which binds all Nato members to defend any that are attacked.
After the meeting, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato secretary general, described the "unacceptable" shooting down of the jet as "another example of the Syrian authorities' disregard for international norms, peace, security and human life".
Kofi Annan, the international envoy to Syria, is trying to organise a peace conference for Saturday which would include the Security Council and regional countries, notably Iran.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, indicated that he would attend and stated Iran's participation was crucial to the success of a meeting, but Britain and America publicly oppose Tehran's involvement.