NATO condemns Russian violation of Turkish airspace
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NATO condemned on Monday the "extreme danger" of Russia’s violation of Turkish airspace over the weekend as the Western alliance protested Moscow’s military campaign in Syria.
Turkey, a NATO member, protested to Moscow after its F-16 jets intercepted a Russian fighter plane that violated its airspace near the Syrian border on Saturday evening.
Two Turkish jets were also harassed by an unidentified MIG-29 on the Syrian border, Turkey's army said.
"Our rules of engagement are clear whoever violates our airspace," said Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
"The Turkish Armed Forces are clearly instructed. Even if it is a flying bird, it will be intercepted," he added, while playing down the idea of "a Turkey-Russia crisis".
According to Jasper Mortimer, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Turkey, even economic sanctions against Moscow from Ankara were unlikely.
“In any confrontation between Russia and Turkey, the advantages do lie with Russia,” Mortimer said. “Not just because it is a superior military power but because Turkey buys 60 percent of its natural gas from Russia.”
NATO concern over Russia in Syria
US Secretary of State John Kerry said the incident had risked provoking a serious escalation.
"We're greatly concerned about it because it is precisely the kind of thing that had Turkey responded under its rights could have resulted in a shoot-down," he said.
At an emergency meeting, NATO warned of the "extreme danger" of such violations and condemned the incursions.
The alliance also expressed "deep concern" over Russia's military build-up in Syria, urging Moscow to "immediately cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians".
Turkey and Russia remain on opposing sides of the Syrian conflict, with Moscow one of the few allies of President Bashar al-Assad while Ankara backs a solution excluding the embattled leader.
Russian warplanes have been flying over Syrian territory since Wednesday, conducting air strikes on what Moscow says are Islamic State (IS) group targets in the country's northern and central provinces.
The strikes have been criticised by opposition backers like the United States, which leads a coalition already carrying out raids against the IS group in Syria.
'Escalating civil war'
The West has accused Moscow of mainly targeting moderate opponents of the regime.
On Sunday IS jihadists blew up the Arch of Triumph in Syria's ancient city of Palmyra, the country's antiquities director Maamun Abdulkarim said.
UNESCO chief Irina Bokova slammed the latest demolition, which comes after the group razed other parts of the site, including the 2,000-year old Temple of Bel.
A year-long US-led air campaign has failed to vanquish the jihadists, and Western governments have warned Russia's involvement could make things worse.
US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said Russia was pursuing a "losing strategy" in Syria.
"Russia has escalated the civil war, putting further at risk the very political resolution and preservation of Syria's structure of future governance it says that it wants," he said.
Turkey, a key opposition backer, has pushed for the creation of a so-called IS-free zone in northern Syria that could provide safe haven to refugees.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)