Turkey ‘will retaliate’ over jet downed in Syria
TURKEY will take retaliatory steps against Syria for the downing of one of its military jets, President Abdullah Gul said yesterday, even as he suggested that the aircraft may have violated Syrian airspace.
It was not clear if Gul was suggesting military retaliation, increased sanctions against Syria or other possible steps, including demands for an apology. But Faruk Celik, Turkey’s labour and social security minister, said Turkey would retaliate “either in the diplomatic field or give other types of response”.
“Even if we assume that there was a violation of Syria’s airspace – though the situation is still not clear – the Syrian response cannot be to bring down the plane,” Celik said.
“The incident is unacceptable,” he added. “Turkey cannot endure it in silence.”
Syria said on Friday that its forces had shot down a Turkish military plane that entered its airspace. The plane, an unarmed F-4 Phantom, went down in the Mediterranean Sea about eight miles (13km) from the Syrian town of Latakia, Turkey said.
The incident further escalated tensions between Syria and Turkey. The two neighbours were allies before the Syrian revolt began in March 2011, but Turkey has become one of the strongest critics of the Syrian regime’s response to the uprising and is playing host to civilian and military Syrian opposition groups.
German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said he was “greatly worried” by the incident and urged a thorough investigation.
“Everything must be done to ensure that there won’t be any further escalation in the already tense region,” he said.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon hopes Turkey and Syria will exercise restraint over Syria’s downing of the jet fighter, his spokesman said.
“The secretary-general is following the situation closely. He hopes this serious incident can be handled with restraint by both sides through diplomatic channels,” Ban’s spokesman added.
Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davuoglu chaired a meeting with military officials yesterday, during which they discussed possible steps and a search and rescue mission for the two missing pilots, the foreign ministry said.
Deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc insisted the plane was not a fighter jet but a reconnaissance plane, and said Turkey was awaiting an explanation from Syria.
The president said Turkey was still trying to establish the exact circumstances of the incident, but said it was “routine” for jets flying at high speeds to unintentionally violate other countries’ airspaces for short periods.
“These incidents are routine,” Gul said. “They are incidents that are not ill-intentioned and happen because of the speeds [of the jets].
“Was that the case, or did [the incident] occur in our own airspace? These facts will emerge. No-one should have any doubt that whatever [action] is necessary will be taken.”
Gul did not elaborate, but Turkey said after an April border shooting incident – in which two people inside a Turkish refugee camp died – that it would call on its Nato allies to intervene should it feel its security was being threatened.
Syrian coastguards joined their Turkish counterparts in their search for the jet’s two crew members for a second day yesterday, Arinc said. Gul said earlier that some pieces of wreckage had been found.
On Friday night, Syria’s state-run news agency Sana said the military had spotted an “unidentified aerial target” flying at low altitude and high speed.
“The Syrian anti-air defences counteracted with artillery, hitting it directly,” Sana said.
“The target turned out to be a Turkish military plane that entered Syrian airspace and was dealt with according to laws observed in such cases.”
Syria claimed the jet violated its airspace over territorial waters, penetrating about 0.62 miles.
It said Syrian forces only realised that it was a Turkish jet after firing.
Yesterday, Turkish newspaper Hurriyet accused Syria of “playing with fire”, while Vatan newspaper said Syria would “pay the price” for the attack.
Arinc and other government ministers, however, urged restraint.
“We must remain calm and collected,” he said. “We must not give premium to any provocative speeches and acts.”
Meanwhile, Syria’s President Bashar Assad has formed a new government headed by a loyalist member of his Baath Party.
Assad had promised after 7 May parliamentary elections to make the government more inclusive to politicians from other parties.
But the appointment of Baathist Riad Farid Hijab, a former agriculture minister, as prime minister raised questions about his commitment to that pledge.
There was no change in the key posts at the foreign and interior ministries. Defence minister General Dawood Rajiha also remains in office.
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