U.S. calls for Turkish troops
ANKARA, Turkey (CNN) -- The United States has asked Turkey to send soldiers to Afghanistan to join the U.S.-led war against terror, Turkish military sources told CNN Wednesday.
The move comes as UK Prime Minister Tony Blair returned to the Middle East in an effort to consolidate the coalition against terrorism.
The two biggest players in the coalition, the United States and the United Kingdom, have been vigorously seeking support from Middle East countries in the war against terrorism, while also trying to douse the potentially inflammatory escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
In Ankara, Turkish officials said they were looking positively at the request from the U.S. government.
The first step would involve the deployment of military advisers, probably to northern Afghanistan. Troops could be sent later.
Three weeks ago, high-level Turkish military advisers were briefed on the anti-terror operation at a military base in Florida.
Turkey, a NATO member, has opened its air space to U.S. aircraft and has shared intelligence with the United States since the beginning of the current crisis.
Turkey has a 99 percent Muslim population, so troop involvement would provide a potentially valuable component in any broad-ranging the coalition the United States formed.
Blair in Syria
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, meanwhile, has returned to the Middle East in an effort to patch up the shaky cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians and strengthen and diversify the coalition against terrorism.
Wednesday's visit to Syria -- the first by a British prime minister -- comes amid increasing tension in the region.
Blair is also trying to counter growing opposition within the UK to the military campaign in Afghanistan.
Syria hosts more than 10 Palestinian groups that oppose the Mideast peace process, including Hamas and al-Jihad, groups that have claimed responsibility for recent suicide attacks in Israel. Western diplomats want Syria to rein in those groups.
CNN correspondent Rula Amin in the Syrian capital, Damascus, says many people the region draw a distinction between terrorism and the Palestinian cause, what it calls the legitimate resistance to Israeli occupation.
Damascus has accused Israel of carrying out its own brand of state terrorism and is pressing for a long-lasting solution to the Middle East conflict, not just a short-term ceasefire.
Syria also wants the return of the Golan Heights included in any discussion of its relations with Jerusalem.
Blair, who played a leading role in forming the coalition against terrorism among western and Arab nations, made a keynote speech on Tuesday urging people not to forget the horrors of September 11.
The address was designed to correct a perceived "wobble" in the public and media's support for the bombing campaign and Blair stressed it was important "we never forget why we are doing it."
Blair's government is also concerned by reports that some British Muslims have left the UK to fight for the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The government suggested on Tuesday that British citizens who took up arms for the Taliban could be charged under ancient treason laws.
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