Turkey has said that Syria shot down its military aircraft in international airspace and declared it would formally consult with NATO allies on a reaction.
Turkey’s assertion came as reports said search teams had located the wreckage in Syrian waters at a depth of 1,300 metres. Turkish news channels reported this on Sunday without citing a source, after the foreign minister earlier had said search and rescue teams were still searching for the two missing pilots.
He said the search operations were in co-ordination with the Syrians, but could not be described as a “joint” operation.
The foreign minister said that the plane had been clearly marked as Turkish and said he did not agree with Syria’s earlier statement it had not known the plane belonged to Ankara.
Speaking on state-run TRT television, Ahmet Davutoglu said the F4 fighter plane “was hit when it was a distance of 13 miles from the Syrian coast”.
The plane entered Syrian airspace on Friday, but quickly left when warned, Davutoglu said.
He said the jet was on a training mission, and “not involved in any operation against Syria”. It was testing Turkey’s own radar and defence systems, he said.
Davutoglu also said he also planned to set out Turkey’s case before the United Nations Security Council.
Envoys from NATO member states will meet in Brussels on Tuesday after Turkey requested consultations over the downing of its military jet by Syria, a NATO spokeswoman said.
“Turkey has requested consultations under Article 4 of NATO’s founding Washington Treaty. Under Article 4, any ally can request consultations whenever, in the opinion of any of them, their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened,” Oana Lungescu said.
“The NAC (North Atlantic Council) will meet on Tuesday at Turkey’s request. We expect Turkey to make a presentation on the recent incident.”
Earlier on Saturday, Davutoglu had briefed world powers about the downing of its plane even as a joint search for the missing airmen continued.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon raised his “deep concern” about the impact of the downing and Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi urged both Turkey and Syria to show restraint.
Salehi told Davutoglu over the phone that he hoped the two sides would “settle the issue peacefully to maintain regional stability”, a statement on the Iranian foreign ministry’s website said.
Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi on Sunday condemned the shooting down of the Turkish jet on an “inoffensive flight” as “a further extremely serious and unacceptable action by the Assad regime”.
European Union foreign ministers will discuss the Syria crisis, as well as Iran and Egypt, in Luxembourg on Monday.
Turkey had close ties with Syria before the uprising. Ankara has previously floated the possibility of setting up some kind of safe haven or humanitarian corridor inside Syria, which would entail military intervention, but has said it would undertake no such action without UN Security Council approval.
Russia and China, Assad’s strongest backers abroad, have fiercely opposed any outside interference in the Syrian crisis, saying UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan is the only way forward.
Syria’s state news agency said Syrian forces had confronted “terrorists” who had crossed the Turkish border into the coastal province of Latakia and killed several of them on Sunday.
Meanwhile, a ship carrying Russian helicopters to Syria, which turned back after its insurance was cut, is expected to resume its journey accompanied by at least one other vessel, the Interfax news agency reported on Sunday, citing a military source.
The report is likely to reignite international criticism of Russia’s arms deliveries to Syria, which US officials have called reprehensible, and which the Arab League has said should be stopped.
Also on Sunday, members of disparate Syrian groups opposed to the Assad’s rule tried in Brussels to hash out their differences and plan for a democratic transition.
Image via WikiCommons.