Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Umit Bektas)
BEIRUT - Syria shot down a Turkish warplane over the Mediterranean on Friday and Ankara warned it would respond decisively to the incident that threatened a new international dimension to the 16-month revolt against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Syria said the Turkish aircraft was flying low, well inside Syrian territorial waters when it was shot down.
With the second biggest army in NATO, a force hardened by nearly 30 years of fighting Kurdish rebels, Turkey would be a formidable foe for the Syrian army which is already struggling to put down a 16-month-old revolt.
But Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's initial comments and subsequent statement on the downing of the F-4 jet were measured in tone. He said Turkish and Syrian forces were working together to search for the two missing crew of the aircraft.
"As a result of information obtained from the evaluation of our concerned institutions and from within the joint search and rescue operations with Syria, it is understood that our plane was brought down by Syria," Erdogan's office said in a statement.
"Turkey will present its final stance after the incident has been fully brought to light and decisively take the necessary steps," the office said after a two-hour emergency meeting between prime minister, the chief of general staff, the defense, interior and foreign ministers, the head of national intelligence and the commander of the air force.
Turkish media had reported earlier that Syria had apologized for the incident, but Erdogan made no mention of an apology.
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A statement by the Syrian military said the Turkish plane was flying
low, just one kilometer off the Syrian coast, when it was hit by
anti-aircraft fire. The plane fell in Syrian waters 10-kms (seven miles)
west of the village of Um al-Touyour.
"The navy of the two countries have established contact. Syrian naval
vessels are participating along with the Turkish side in the search
operation for the missing pilots," it said.
Violence raged on unabated inside Syria, which appears to be sliding
towards a sectarian-tinged civil war pitting majority Sunni Muslims
against Assad's minority Alawite sect.
Ankara, which had drawn close to Syria before the uprising against Assad, turned against the Syrian leader when he responded violently to pro-democracy protests inspired by popular upheavals elsewhere in the Arab world. Turkey now gives refuge to the rebel Free Syrian Army on its frontier with Syria.
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.
Turkey has said however that Assad must go.
Turkey hosts about 32,000 Syrian refugees and allows the rebel Syrian Free Army to operate from its territory. The opposition Syrian National Council meets in Istanbul.
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