Turkey Clears Syria-Bound Armenian Plane After Cargo Search

Turkey allowed a Syria bound cargo plane from Armenia to resume its journey after it landed in eastern Turkey for a search today to make sure it only carried humanitarian aid and not weapons.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said authorities had verified Armenia’s statement that the plane carried relief supplies to Aleppo, Syria, the state-run Anatolia agency said.

The landing of the plane in the eastern city of Erzurum came a week after Turkey grounded and searched a Syrian plane that took off from Russia, and confiscated some of its cargo saying it contained military supplies destined for President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Turkey has backed the rebels who have been fighting to end Assad’s rule since March last year, and says it won’t turn a blind eye to arms shipments to Syria.

Arinc said the search of the Armenian plane shows that Turkey is “serious” in monitoring shipments to Syria.

The plane was carrying aid and the stop in Turkey was planned, Tigran Balayan, a spokesman for Armenia’s Foreign Ministry, said in an e-mailed response to questions. Turkey permitted the flight on condition it would carry out the search.

Armenia requested flight permission for the Air Armenia plane from Turkey on Oct. 10, when Turkey grounded the Syrian plane, Anatolia said. The Antonov-12 was carrying 14 tons of food supplies including sunflower oil, rice and sugar from Yerevan to Aleppo, Anatolia said.

Aiding Rebels

Tensions between Turkey and Syria, once allies, have escalated since a shell fired from Syria landed in a Turkish border town earlier this month, killing five people. In June, a Turkish plane was shot down by Syrian forces in the east Mediterranean. Turkey has deployed additional troops and weapons to the border with Syria.

More than 30,000 people have been killed as Assad’s government fights the uprising in Syria, according to pro- opposition rights groups. Syria has accused Turkey, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, of helping the rebels obtain arms and money.

Turkey is hosting more than 100,000 Syrian refugees, including defected soldiers, and has allowed rebel military forces to operate from Turkish bases.

Turkey allows humanitarian and commercial flights to and from Armenia even though the countries do not have diplomatic ties. Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 to protest Armenia’s war with Azerbaijan, and insists on withdrawal of Armenian troops from the Armenian-occupied enclave Nagorno- Karabakh in Azerbaijan before it will reopen the border.

To contact the reporter on this story: Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at shacaoglu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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