Turkey and Syria are in the center of Arab news Wednesday, as dailies report that fighting between government and opposition engulfed Damascus.

“The battles approach the heart of Damascus and Erdogan to Assad: the rules of the game have changed,” reads the headline of Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, which has been itching for foreign intervention in Syria for months. The article features two members of the opposition Free Syrian Army posing next to a large piece of artillery reportedly captured from the regular Syrian army.

In a similar vein, quoting from a press release issued by the Syrian Observatory, a London-based watchdog, the headline of London-based Al-Hayat reads “clashes reach ‘the heart of the regime’; attacks on the barracks of the Republican Guard.” The London daily reports that clashes between the Syrian “military elite” and the opposition have reached the presidential palace.

Al-Hayat columnist Randa Taqi A-Din speculates that it was actually the Russians, not the Syrians, who downed the Turkish jet last Friday.

“Did Russian forces help Syria’s anti-aircraft units down the Turkish reconnaissance jet? The question arises since the Syrian air force failed many times to protect its national security when hit by Israel. Where was the Syrian air force when Israel attacked the Syrian nuclear installation? And where was it when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 while the Syrian army was occupying Lebanon? We witnessed the valiant Syrian army, fighting its people now, retreat quickly for fear of the Israeli army.”

Al-Hayat columnist Randa Taqi A-Din speculates that it was actually the Russians, not the Syrians, who downed the Turkish jet last Friday

But London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reports, based on “a Syrian expert,” that the anti-aircraft weapon used to shoot down the aircraft was manufactured in Iran and acquired by Syria in December 2010.

In an ominous statement to his new government, Bashar Assad said Syria is experiencing ‘a real war,’ adding that all state resources will be directed at winning the war, Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera reports.

Al-Jazeera columnist Ghazi Dahman writes that by downing the Turkish plane, Syria took a risk; attempting to gauge the strategy of international players towards it.

“The downing of the plane causes great embarrassment to the Erdogan government. It is also a crucial test for the Turkish defense strategy, exposing the nature and quality of Ankara’s readiness to deal with a crisis affecting its national security,” writes Dahman.

Morsi gains ground at the expense of the military

Every move by Egyptian President-elect Mohammed Morsi is weighed by the Arab press in light of the ongoing power struggle with the military. On Wednesday, it seems Morsi gained some points at the army’s expense.

Al-Quds Al-Arabi leads its news Wednesday with what it describes as a “setback” for the military, as a court decision prohibits military police from arresting civilians, a measure authorized by the military in the days ahead of the presidential elections. The somewhat sensationalist daily also reports “hysteria and confusion” in the ranks of Mubarak-loyalists, as the military denies “having sold the state to the Brotherhood.”

But the Brotherhood is also being challenged by the religious right in Egypt. According to Saudi-owned news website Elaph, Salafists are demanding that Egypt banish its Shiite and Bahai communities from the country, cut ties with Israel; and that the pyramids – the impressive relic of Egypt’s (pagan) pharaonic past – be demolished.

‘In truth, this Iranian media fiasco was not the first and will not be the last,’ writes Homayed. ‘Fabrication and falsification are a well-known game shared by many Iranian media outlets.’

Iranian news agency Fars published an interview with Morsi, supposedly conducted minutes before his victory was announced. In the interview – which the Brotherhood denies ever took place – Morsi professes his wish to normalize relations with Iran. A-Sharq Al-Awsat editor-in-chief Tareq Homayed labels the so-called interview “a new Iranian fiasco.”

“In truth, this Iranian media fiasco was not the first and will not be the last,” writes Homayed. “Fabrication and falsification are a well-known game shared by many Iranian media outlets.”

Al-Hayat: Romney consults Israelis on Middle East issues

Al-Hayat’s Washington correspondent Joyce Karam reports Wednesday that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is conducting “routine talks” with Israeli experts on Middle East affairs in an attempt to attract Jewish voters.

‘Although Israeli contact with American candidates is considered traditional, Romney’s statements are seen as an attempt to outdo President Barack Obama on his closeness to Tel Aviv’

“Although Israeli contact with American candidates is considered traditional, Romney’s statements are seen as an attempt to outdo President Barack Obama on his closeness to Tel Aviv,” Karam reports.

Islamist Moroccan Minister of Industry and Trade, Abd Al-Qader Amarah is in hot water after a local magazine, Al-An, accused him of ordering two bottles of champagne and a fancy dinner at the public’s expense during an official trip to Burkina Faso. The drinking of alcohol is banned in Islam.

The minister filed a libel suit against the weekly and against another Moroccan daily, Akhbar Al-Yom, which questioned him on the matter.