Turkey’s armed forces shot down a Syrian jet Sunday, saying it had violated Turkish airspace. The Syrian government immediately slammed the move as an act of “blatant aggression”, insisting the aircraft had been downed inside Syria.
“Our F-16s took off and hit this plane. Why? Because if you violate my airspace, our slap after this will be hard,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during an election rally in northwest Turkey, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
"I congratulate the chief of general staff, the armed forces and those honourable pilots... I congratulate our air forces," he said.
Turkish media reported that the army warned two Syrian jets approaching its border to turn away, but sent its F-16 jets when one refused to abide by the warning.
President Abdullah Gul called Chief of Staff General Necdet Ozel to congratulate him.
"Turkey has shown its determination to protect its border," he was quoted as saying by Turkish media.
Parliament speaker Cemil Cicek said Turkey had acted within its rights under international law, media reported.
Syria, on the other hand, said Turkish air defences shot down the jet while it was attacking rebel forces inside Syrian territory.
An unnamed military official was quoted by Syrian state TV as saying the plane was downed Sunday in Syrian airspace as it was attacking rebels who have been on the offensive in the coastal province of Latakia. The spokesman said the pilot ejected from the aircraft.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said initial reports from the area said the plane came down on the Syrian side of the border.
Turkish warplanes last year downed a Syrian helicopter, which Ankara said was detected two kilometres inside Turkish airspace.
Turkey toughened its rules of engagement after the downing of one of its fighter jets by the Syrian air force in June, 2012 to say that any military approach of the Turkish border from Syria would be considered a threat.
Turkey, a staunch opponent of the regime in Damascus, hosts more than 750,000 refugees from the three-year Syrian conflict, many of them in camps along the border.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-03-23