Turkish, Syrian forces seek downed Turkish
June 23, 2012
The Turkish military lost radio contact with the F-4
Phantom while it was flying over Hatay province.
Photo: AP, Airteam Images.
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ANKARA/BEIRUT, (Reuters),— Turkey and Syria said
their navies were jointly searching on Saturday for
Turkish airmen shot down by Syria over the
Mediterranean, while nearby Turkish authorities were
hosting thousands of rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.
Signals from both sides suggested neither wanted a
military confrontation over Friday's shooting down
of the jet near sea borders of both states. However,
the joint operation will clearly sit uneasily with
both forces, given the bitter hostility between the
two former allies over Assad's 16-month crackdown on
Turkey has promised to respond decisively.
"It is not possible to cover over a thing like this.
Whatever is necessary will no doubt be done,"
Turkish President Abdullah Gul told reporters,
adding that Ankara had been in telephone contact
with Syrian authorities.
The incident, whatever its causes, demonstrated
Syria's formidable Russian-supplied air defences -
one of the many reasons for Western qualms about any
military intervention to halt bloodshed in the
Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the
downed jet was not a warplane but a reconnaissance
aircraft, state television TRT reported. Turkish
media had earlier identified it as an F-4 Phantom,www.ekurd.net
a fighter also used for reconnaissance
Gul said it was routine for fast-flying jets to
cross borders for a short distance and that an
investigation would determine if the aircraft was
brought down in Turkish airspace.
Syria's military said the Turkish plane was flying
low, just one kilometre off the Syrian coast, when
it was shot down. It had been tracked at first as an
unidentified aircraft and its Turkish origine
"The navies 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.
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 a
Syrian military already struggling to put down a
popular uprising and an increasingly potent
"PLAYING WITH FIRE"
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met
Turkey's military commanders and intelligence chief
to discuss the search for the pilots and Ankara's
The meeting followed an emergency security session
chaired by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Friday
"Turkey will present its final stance after the
incident has been fully brought to light and
decisively take the necessary steps," said a
statement from Erdogan's office.
Turkish newspapers were less restrained.
"They (the Syrians) will pay the price," said Vatan,
while Hurriyet daily said: "He (Assad) is playing
The joint Syrian-Turkish naval operation was not
without its tense ironies. Less than 50 Km (30
miles)away in Turkey's southeastern Hatay province,
authorities are giving refuge to the rebel Free
Syrian Army who mount daily attacks on Syrian
Saudi Arabia and Qatar are paying salaries to Syrian
rebels, with Turkish involvement, an Arab diplomat
in Jeddah said.
"The payment has been going on for months and the
agreement was made on April 2 by Saudi Arabia and
Qatar, with logistical organisation from Turkey
where some Free Syrian Army factions are based," he
said, asking not to be named.
"The point of this is to encourage as many factions
of the Syrian army to defect and to organise the FSA,
control it and prevent any extremist organisations
from joining it."
A spokesman for Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry said
he was not aware of reports that the kingdom was
funding Syrian rebels.
The souring of Syrian-Turkish relations has provoked
concern among Turks that Syria may revive its former
support for Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) insurgents
in southeastern Turkey.
"It's possible the Turks were sending jets in the
area in response to an apparent escalation of the
PKK's activities," Hilal Khashan, political science
professor at the American University of Beirut, told
Reuters. "Turkey may suspect that Syria and Iran are
supporting Kurdish rebel activities now as a
reaction to Turkish support of the Syrian revolt."
However, Khashan said he did not expect a harsh
military reaction from Turkey. "It is under a tight
leash by the United States. They don't want to start
a war tomorrow."
BUDDING CIVIL WAR
A civil war, or something closely resembling one, is
already in full swing in Syria, where fighting or
shelling engulfed parts of the cities of Aleppo,
Hama, Homs, Deir al-Zor and Douma, according to the
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The British-based watchdog also reported fierce
clashes and shelling in the town of al-Bab in Aleppo
province, where army helicopters were flying
overhead. It said rockets and gunfire had killed
three people in al-Qusair, a town in Homs province.
Two men were killed in an ambush by security forces
Syrian army shelling killed at least 28 people in
Deir al-Zor, opposition activists said. A hospital
source said three women and several children were
among civilians killed when shells hit their homes
in the Old Airport area.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
said it was still negotiating access to hundreds of
trapped civilians and wounded people in Homs after a
failed attempt to reach them on Thursday. "We are
still in discussions to try to enter the (old)
city," ICRC spokesman Jean-Yves Clemenzo said in
Turkey fears the fighting, much of which pits
majority Sunni Muslim dissidents and rebels against
Assad's Alawite-dominated security forces, could
unleash a flood of refugees over its own border and
ignite a regional sectarian conflict.
It already hosts 32,000 Syrian refugees near the
border. The opposition Syrian National Council meets
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 U.N. Security Council approval.
Turkey has said however that Assad must go.
It was unclear why the Syrians had shot down the
aircraft, which, having left a base in Malatya, was
flying close to a corridor linking Turkey with
Turkish forces on Northern Cyprus.
"The Syrian military may have taken a calculated
gamble by downing the Turkish plane, which could
boost the morale of Assad's loyalists after
increased defections from the military," said Yasser
Saadeldine, an opposition Syrian commentator.
"A Turkish retaliation would fit into the fantasy he
(Assad) is peddling that the uprising is a foreign
It was also possible the air defences could have
mistaken the aircraft for a defecting pilot,
following an incident earlier in the week when a
Syrian aircraft landed in Jordan.
Russia and China, Assad's strongest backers abroad,
firmly oppose any outside interference in the Syrian
crisis, including foreign arming or funding of
insurgents, saying envoy Kofi Annan's stalled peace
plan is the only way forward.
Assad's prime minister, appointed after a
parliamentary election conducted last month despite
the violence convulsing the country, named a new
cabinet on Saturday, retaining the same interior,
defence and foreign ministers.
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