Turkey says jet shot down in international airspace

Turkey says jet shot down in international airspace

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks on state broadcaster TRT in Ankara on June 24, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

June 24, 2012, Sunday/ 11:03:00

Turkey said on Sunday Syria had shot down its military aircraft in international airspace on Friday without warning and declared it would formally consult its NATO allies on a reaction.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, speaking some 48 hours after the jet was shot down near both countries' sea borders, told state broadcaster TRT the plane had been clearly marked as Turkish and dismissed Syria's earlier statement it had not known the plane belonged to Turkey.

He said the downed jet was unarmed and had been on a solo mission to test domestic radar systems and that the flight had no connection to the crisis in neighbouring Syria.

"Our plane was shot at a distance of 13 sea miles from Syria's border in international airspace," Davutoğlu said.

"According to the radar images, our plane lost contact with headquarters after it was hit and because the pilot lost control, it crashed into Syrian waters after making abnormal movements," he said.

"Throughout this entire period no warning was made to our plane."

The shooting down of the aircraft has added a further serious international dimension to the 16-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, that Turkey, along with other Western and Arab countries, has supported on the world diplomatic stage.

Turkey is giving shelter to the rebel Free Syria Army (FSA), and accommodating refugees on its southeastern border with Syria, some 50 km (30 miles) from where the Turkish aircraft was shot down. But it denies providing arms for the insurgents.

NATO Article 4

Davutoğlu said he would formally report the incident to the NATO military alliance this week under article four of its founding treaty, as well as to the U.N. Security Council.

"I have made instructions for a notification to be made within the framework of Article 4 at the NATO Council meeting in the upcoming week," Davutoğlu said.

"In addition, a notification will be made to the U.N. Security Council in light of the information we have regarding the background to this aggressive attitude," he said.

NATO's article four provides for states to "consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened".

It stops short of the explicit mention of possible armed responses cited in article five.

A NATO spokeswoman said envoys from member states would meet on Tuesday following Turkey's request for consultations.

Syria has said the plane was flying fast and low, just one kilometre off the Syrian coast when it was shot down. It had been tracked at first as an unidentified aircraft and its Turkish origin established later.

Davutoğlu dismissed Syria's explanation, saying the plane's identity was clear for all to see and said Damascus was transmitting "disinformation" to the Turkish public.

He said the downed jet had briefly crossed into Syrian airspace 15 minutes before it was shot down but had then also received no warning from Syria. He said such flights often cross into other countries' airspace.

Davutoğlu said the search for the missing pilots was continuing in coordination with the Syrian authorities, but said it could not be described as a joint operation.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan would make a statement at his ruling party's meeting in parliament on Tuesday, the foreign minister added. He said Ankara had begun to implement its response to the incident, but gave no details of the plan.   

British Foreign Minister William Hague condemned Syria's downing of the Turkish jet, calling it an "outrageous act".    

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon commended Turkey for the restraint it had shown in its initial reaction upon learning its jet had been downed on Friday. A statement released by the office of Ban's spokesperson said that in a telephone conversation between Ban and Davutoğlu, the secretary-general expressed his deep concern about the downed military jet and particularly about the potential serious implications for the region.

“Ban said that his thoughts were with the families of the missing pilots,” the statement added. The statement also said Ban appreciated the fact that Turkey and Syria were conducting a joint search-and-rescue operation. “The Secretary-General urged both to continue to address the situation diplomatically,” it said.

“He said the United Nations was prepared to provide any support that would be helpful in these difficult circumstances,” it added.

Syria said on Saturday that it shot down a Turkish reconnaissance plane after it entered Syrian airspace, insisting it was “not an attack” as both sides desperately try to de-escalate this episode in order to avert a regional conflagration.

The incident heightened tensions between two countries that had been allies before Syria's 15-month violent uprising, and signaled that the violence gripping Syria is increasingly bleeding outside its borders. Germany and Iraq were among the countries urging restraint in the region. Syria and neighboring Turkey had cultivated close ties before the Syrian revolt began in March 2011, but since then Turkey has become one of the strongest critics of Syria's regime.

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