Turkey searches second Syrian-bound Iranian plane within days

March 21, 2011, Monday/ 16:51:00

An Iranian cargo plane en route to Syria was forced to land in Turkey’s southeastern Diyarbakir Airport for an inspection, several news reports said on Sunday. The plane, a civilian Ilyushin, landed on Saturday night on the orders of Turkish authorities, and military fighter planes were on standby in case the plane refused to comply, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported, citing security forces.

Diplomatic sources at the Foreign Ministry in Ankara did not confirm or deny the reports when approached by Today’s Zaman on Sunday afternoon.

An inspection of the plane is ongoing to check whether the aircraft has any illicit or military material on board, security sources added, according to AFP.

A UN Security Council resolution bans the supply, trade or transfer of any arms and related material from Iran to all states. Any transfer and procurement of weapons from Iran is a breach of international obligations under a UN resolution.

The search at Diyarbakır Airport came only days after a cargo plane from Iran was required to land in Turkey so its shipment could be searched. Officials said it was a standard procedure that has nothing to do with UN Security Council sanctions on the neighboring country. The Iranian plane, which was heading from Tehran to Aleppo, Syria, landed at Diyarbakır Airport on Tuesday night. The Chemical, Biological, Radiologic and Nuclear (KBRN) team of the Diyarbakır Civil Defense, Search and Rescue Directorate also joined the search on Wednesday. The plane was allowed to continue its flight after it was determined there was “no extraordinary situation,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Selçuk Ünal said on Wednesday. In the past, Turkey has conducted similar searches of Iranian planes. Two of those incidents took place consecutively in July and August 2006, when the Turkish Foreign Ministry forced two Syria-bound Iranian planes to land at Diyarbakır Airport and to submit to a search for rockets and other military equipment during the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. At the time, a Turkish official had said those were not the only planes that were forced to land.

Tuesday’s incident in Diyarbakır came when earlier on the same day Israel announced it had seized a cargo ship loaded with weapons sent by Iran to Palestinian militants in Gaza, including sophisticated land-to-sea missiles that officials said could change the balance of power in the area.

The Israeli military said the vessel that was captured with Iranian weapons had set off from the Syrian port of Latakia and stopped in Mersin, Turkey, before heading towards Alexandria in Egypt. Turkey was not involved in the arms shipment, it said.

On Wednesday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told reporters at the Port of Ashdod, where the seized cargo ship was taken, that he hoped Turkey had carried out a proper inspection.

“We have seen this plane that was stopped in Turkey, and it must be hoped that there, too, they will conduct checks as required, and that the other players that are involved, too -- that everyone in their area do the right things so that this mutual reinforcement of terror and [military] build-up ceases,” Barak said.

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