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Turkey shoots down Russian fighter jet 'near Syrian border'

Sergey Venyavsky, AFP | Russian Air Force Su-24 bombers fly during a military exercise in southern Russia on February 11, 2015.

Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border on Tuesday after repeatedly warning it over air space violations, Turkish officials said, but Moscow said it could prove the jet had not left Syrian air space.

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It was the first time a NATO member's armed forces have downed a Russian or Soviet military aircraft since the 1950s and Russian and Turkish stocks fell on fears of an escalation between the former Cold War enemies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the plane had been attacked when it was 1 km (0.62 mile) inside Syria and warned of "serious consequences" for Moscow’s relations with Ankara.

Speaking in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi before a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah, Putin called the Turkish downing of a Russian Su-24 fighter jet a "stab in the back committed by accomplices of terrorists".

A jagged border in heavily forested terrain

Earlier Tuesday, a Turkish military statement confirmed its fighter jets had brought down an aircraft that had entered Turkish airspace in the southern Hatay province. It said the plane was warned 10 times within the space of 5 minutes.

"Two F-16 planes on aerial patrol duty in the area intervened against the plane in question in accordance with the rules of engagement at 9.24am," said the Turkish military statement.

In a statement released shortly after the incident, Russia's defence ministry said one of its Su-24 fighter jets had been downed in Syria. "The Ministry of Defence would like to stress that the plane was over the Syrian territory throughout the flight".

FRANCE 24's JASPER MORTIMER REPORTING FROM TURKEY

Reporting from Ankara, FRANCE 24’s Jasper Mortimer said Turkey had released a radar analysis of the Russian jet’s flight path, which showed the plane had cut right across a spur of southern Turkish territory that juts down into northern Syria. “It was shot down [over Turkish territory] and it landed on the other side of the spur in Syria,” said Mortimer.

“The border there is a very jagged affair,” explained Mortimer. “It goes up and down, east and west, over heavily forested territory. Those planes fly at high speeds so it would have been very easy for a pilot to make the error of crossing into Turkish territory.”

Preliminary US findings indicate the Russian incursion into Turkish airspace likely lasted only a few seconds, a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

Video of downed jet

The incident came as Russian and Syrian jets are carrying out a heavy bombing campaign against targets in northern Syria, right by the Turkish border. Russia launched a campaign of air strikes in Syria to bolster President Bashar al-Assad's government in the ongoing civil war in late September.

Footage aired on the private Turkish broadcaster Haberturk TV on Tuesday showed the warplane going down in flames in a woodland area, a long plume of smoke trailing behind it.

Separate footage from Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency showed two pilots parachuting out of the jet before it crashed.

A video clip sent to Reuters by a Syrian rebel group on Tuesday appeared to show a Russian pilot immobile and badly wounded on the ground.

There was no mention of a second Russian pilot who was in the plane.

The video was sent to Reuters by a rebel group operating in the northwestern area of Syria, where groups including the opposition Free Syrian Army are operating but the Islamic State group has no known presence.

A Turkish government official said the two pilots are believed to be alive and Turkish authorities are seeking to recover them.

"Turkey has information that the two pilots are alive and right now Turkey is trying to recover them," the official told AFP, after reports that at least one of the pilots could have died after parachuting down inside Syria.

Tensions between Russia and Turkey

The latest incident threatens to worsen relations between Russia and Turkey, the only Muslim-majority NATO member.

NATO allies are holding an "extraordinary" meeting at Ankara's request to discuss Turkey's downing of the Russian fighter jet along the Syrian border.

Russia and Turkey have summoned each other’s diplomatic representatives and NATO is holding a meeting of its ambassadors later Tuesday.

Since the launch of Russian air strikes in Syria, there have been a number of incidents involving Turkish and Russian airplanes along the Syria-Turkey border.

Russian fighter jets entered Turkish airspace in two separate incidents in October, prompting Ankara to summon the Russian ambassador twice to protest both violations.

Turkey called this week for a UN Security Council meeting to discuss attacks on Turkmens in neighbouring Syria. Ankara has traditionally expressed solidarity with Syrian Turkmens, who are Syrians of Turkish descent.

The Turkish military in October also shot down a Russian-made drone that had entered its airspace. But Moscow denied the drone belonged to its forces.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was due to visit Turkey on Wednesday in a bid to smooth ties between the two countries and find a joint approach to finding peace in Syria. But hours after the downing of the plane, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov had cancelled his trip to Turkey.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was due to visit Turkey on Wednesday in a bid to smooth ties between the two countries and find a joint approach to finding peace in Syria. But hours after the downing of the plane, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov had cancelled his trip to Turkey.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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