ISTANBUL - Syrian President Bashar Assad has told a Turkish newspaper he wished the Turkish plane that Syrian forces downed last month had been Israeli.
"The plane was using a corridor which Israeli planes have used three
times before. Soldiers shot it down because we did not see it on our
radar and because information was not given," the Cumhuriyet newspaper quoted Assad as saying in an interview published on Tuesday.
"Of course I might have been happy if this had been an Israeli plane," Assad said.
Assad said that he would not allow the tensions between Syria and Turkey to turn into open combat.
"We learned that it (the plane) belonged to Turkey after shooting it down. I say 100 percent 'if only we had not shot it down',"
Asked whether the tensions between Syria and Turkey could lead to war,
Assad said: "We will not allow (the tensions) to turn into open combat
between the two countries, which would harm them both."
He also said Syria had not amassed and would not amass military forces
along the Turkish border, whatever action Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip
Erdogan's government takes.
The paper did not specify when the interview was held, but in it Assad
refers to an international meeting held in Geneva on Saturday under the
auspices of peace envoy Kofi Annan.
Turkey has heightened military activity along its southern border since
Syria shot down the Turkish jet over the Mediterranean on June 22,
prompting a sharp rebuke from Ankara which said it would respond
Syria says it shot down the Turkish jet in self-defense and that it was
brought down in Syrian air space. Turkey says the jet accidentally
violated Syrian air space for a few minutes but was brought down in
international air space.
Assad said Syria would not shy away from apologizing if it emerged that the plane was shot down in international airspace.
His comments emerged as fighting raged throughout Syria to unseat Assad in what is increasingly taking on the character of an all-out civil war, fueled by sectarian hatred.
Syrian helicopters bombarded a Damascus suburb on Monday and Turkey scrambled warplanes near the border in the north, as the UN human rights chief warned that arms supplies to both the government and rebels were deepening the 16-month conflict.
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