'Turkey furious over alleged IAF foray'

Israel denies getting protest from Ankara over Syria flight; IAF fuel tanks allegedly found near border.

September 7, 2007 18:58
3 minute read.
'Turkey furious over alleged IAF foray'

olmert hanegbi 224.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])


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An unnamed Turkish official demanded explanations from Israel, Saturday, after fuel tanks allegedly dropped by Israel F-151 planes who were conducting a foray into Syrian airspace Wednesday overnight, were found on the Turkish Syrian border. Syrian claims of the incident remained unconfirmed in Israel, which remained absolutely mum on the incident. Earlier Saturday, the Syrian government mouthpiece Tishrin accused the US of encouraging Israel by keeping in line with its media silence and refusing to issue its own statement on the issue. The Turkish paper Hurriyet published blurry photos of what it claimed were detachable fuel tanks of the Israeli planes. The tanks were found near the Turkey-Syria border. Reportedly Turkey was demanding whether the Israeli planes also passed over its own airspace. It should be noted that IAF jets regularly practice in Turkish airspace with Turkish consent, and that the Turkish air force conducts joint drills with the IAF and the American Air Force (USAF) on a regular basis. Earlier Saturday, Tzahi Hanegbi, chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee told Israel Radio that "Israel and Syria don't have an interest in conflict, and the United States, along with Arab countries, are making sure not to cause unnecessary tension." Hanegbi also responded to comments made Friday by Science, Culture and Sports Minister Ghaleb Majadle's - comments which marked the first official Israeli response since IAF jets flew over Syria on Thursday. Majadle said that IAF planes enter Syrian airspace on a daily basis, and that he did not believe the latest alleged incident would spark off a war. "The minister should show more restraint with his words," Hanegbi said, adding that "it was unacceptable to speak to the media on matters unrelated to his office." Majadle told the Nazareth-based A-Sinara newspaper that while he had no specific information about the latest alleged operation, it was likely that "the planes either entered Syrian airspace to take photographs or in error." "All sides are interested in calming the situation," Hanegbi continued. "The IDF response was not at all aggressive. The Syrian media has dropped the issue. Russia and Iran responded to the incident out of obligation but didn't take the matter to the [United Nations] Security Council." Hanegbi went on to say that Israel's silence regarding Thursday's incident was coordinated with the US. He added, however, that "Syria has recently invested unprecedented amounts of money on weapons deals, the likes of which we haven't seen since the fall of the former Soviet Union." Earlier in the day an anonymous Israeli source reportedly told the Arab daily Al Arabiya that the IAF jets were on a mission to neutralize Russian-made surface-to-air missile (SAM) anti-aircraft batteries recently deployed by Syria along its Mediterranean coast. According to Army Radio, the Israeli source did not specify the exact type of target, or its exact location. This latest report surrounding the mysterious incident comes only a day after IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said that the winner and loser of a future war will have to be made apparent. "In any future conflict forced upon the state of Israel, there will be a need to ensure that it is known who lost and who won." Ashkenazi made his comments during a meeting held with high-ranking reserve officers on Friday and made no connection between his statement and the latest fears surrounding a war with Syria. Meanwhile, Arab countries continued denouncing the yet-unconfirmed IAF flight over Syria as unprovoked. The Arab League announced that the alleged overflight of IAF planes in Syrian airspace was intolerable, Army Radio reported. Arab League chief Amr Moussa said that "the unbearable move" revealed negative Israeli intentions for the upcoming Middle East peace conference. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that Israel's so-called aerial violations overnight Wednesday added to the regional tension. Also Friday, Syria accused Israel of jeopardizing the chances of success in the upcoming US-sponsored Middle East meeting. Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Ja'afari told Al-Jazeera that the alleged IAF operation came only a few hours after Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo had published a message of support for the meeting and had called for Syria to be invited. A Syrian government newspaper warned that the country "possesses the means to respond ... so that it will deter Israel against proceeding with such unpredictable adventures." Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moallem after the alleged over flight to offer support and condemn Israel's actions, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported Friday. In Washington, the US State Department had no specific comment on the incident, citing the lack of details about what happened. "I'd leave it up to the parties to describe what happened. We'll leave it to them to try and sort this out," deputy spokesman Tom Casey told reporters Thursday. AP contributed to this report.

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