Turkey's PM Erdogan Lashes Out against Syria over Jet Downing

World | June 26, 2012, Tuesday // 14:09|  views

Turkey`s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, 26 June 2012. EPA/BGNES

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized Syria harshly on Tuesday for shooting down a Turkish fighter jet last week.

"Even if the plane was in their airspace for a few seconds, that is no excuse to attack," he said in the Turkish Parliament, as cited by CNN Turk.

"It was clear that this plane was not an aggressive plane. Still it was shot down," Erdogan said, arguing that Syrians should be ashamed of the attack.

Meanwhile, a NATO meeting under its Article 4 declared solidarity with Turkey over the Syria jet downing incident.

The shooting down of the Phantom F-4 jet on Friday has raised tensions significantly between Turkey and Syria, two heavily armed regional powers.

Both sides say the jet strayed into Syrian airspace, but Turkey says the incursion was accidental and quickly corrected.

Erdogan said his armed forces' rules of engagement have changed as a result of Syria shooting down a Turkish warplane and they will respond to any violation on the Syrian border.

In an address to parliament, Erdogan stated Turkey would not engage in war-mongering, but the attack on the reconnaissance jet, which was deliberately targeted, would not be left unanswered.

Turkey has rejected assertions from Damascus that its forces had no option but to fire on the F-4 jet as it flew over Syrian waters close to the coast on Friday.

In a letter to the UN Security Council, Turkey condemned the "hostile act by the Syrian authorities against Turkey's national security", saying it posed "a serious threat to peace and security in the region".

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told a news conference that Syria's actions "would not go unpunished".

The incident has further heightened tensions between Turkey and Syria, which are already strained to near breaking point over the 16-month uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's rule.

European Union foreign ministers yesterday called for Turkey to show restraint, saying they would increase pressure on Mr Assad.

"Military intervention in Syria is out of the question," said Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal.

After a seven-hour Turkish cabinet meeting in which an air force chief gave a detailed briefing on Friday's incident, Mr Arinc said Mr Erdogan would make an announcement on Syria today.

Syria's description of the event as an act of self defence, though tempered with commitment to a "neighbourly relationship", seemed likely to further anger Ankara.

"The plane disappeared and then reappeared in Syrian airspace, flying at 100 metres altitude and about 1-2km from the Syrian coast," Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told a Damascus news conference.

"We had to react immediately, even if the plane was Syrian we would have shot it down," he said.

"The Syrian response was an act of defence of our sovereignty carried out by anti-aircraft machinegun which has a maximum range of 2.5km."

Syria warned Turkey and NATO against retaliating.

"NATO is supposed to be there to strengthen countries," said Makdissi. "If their meeting is for hostile reasons (they should know that) Syrian land and waters are sacred."

The unarmed reconnaissance jet had briefly entered Syrian airspace as it approached land after patrolling the eastern Mediterranean, Arinc said, but was warned by Turkish radar controllers and immediately left and turned again out to sea.

It then made another approach to land when it was shot down 21km off the coast in international airspace, he said, out of the reach of Syria's anti-aircraft guns.

Meanwhile, in shell-shattered districts of Homs, the heart of the uprising against Mr Assad, rebels battled troops as aid workers tried to evacuate civilians.

Turkish television reported the desertion of a Syrian general and other officers across the border.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was again trying to arrange a safe evacuation of trapped civilians from Homs.

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Tags: Article 4, Russia, NATO, Bashar Al-Assad, fighter jets, fighter jet, F-4 Phantom, Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Syria, turkey, Bulent Arinc


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