A Turkish warplane shot down by Syrian forces was in international airspace when it was struck, and Turkey is still weighing a response to the attack, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu said.
The unarmed plane briefly entered Syrian airspace minutes before it was hit on June 22, and then plunged into Syrian waters about 8 miles (13 kilometers) offshore, Davutoglu said on state television today. It was on a test flight related to Turkey’s radar system, and was not spying on Syria, he said. The plane was clearly identifiable as Turkish, and Syria made no attempt to issue a warning after the earlier infringement, Davutoglu said. Turkish rescue teams are still searching for the F4 Phantom jet’s two crew members, he said.
“No one should doubt Turkey’s determination to do what is necessary” in response to the incident, Davutoglu said. He said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will consult opposition parties over Turkey’s response in the next two days, and will probably make a statement on the issue on June 26. Erdogan met main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu in Ankara today and was scheduled to hold talks with nationalist and Kurdish parties.
The downing of the plane has heightened tensions that have arisen in the past year between the former allies over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on anti-government protesters, which has left more than 10,000 people dead. Syria has criticized Turkey for hosting meetings of Syrian opposition groups, while Turkey has called for a change of regime in its southern neighbor.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization will meet on June 26 at Turkey’s request to discuss the incident, and the country will make a presentation about it, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said today in a text message. Davutoglu said that Turkey will give detailed information about the shooting down of the aircraft to its fellow alliance members. NATO rules require members to consult whenever one of them views its territorial integrity, independence or security as being under threat.
The wreckage of the aircraft has been found in Syrian waters at a depth of about 1,000 meters, Milliyet newspaper reported today.
The Turkish plane was hit in Syrian airspace and it should be thought of as “an accident, certainly not an attack,” Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told the Turkish news channel A Haber yesterday. He said Syria has no hostility toward the Turkish government or people.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said on June 22 that the plane was inside Syrian airspace when it was shot down.
Davutoglu described that allegation as “disinformation.” He said Turkish rescue teams are still searching for the pilots, and Syria has also deployed personnel for the search, though they are not working together.
Erdogan has repeatedly called in recent months for the Syrian leader to step down and end the bloodshed. Several thousand Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey. In April, two people seeking to flee into Turkey were wounded by gunfire across the border from Syrian forces, prompting reports in Milliyet and other Turkish newspapers that Turkey’s army was considering establishing a buffer zone inside Syria.
U.S. intelligence officers based in southern Turkey are working to determine which Syrian opposition groups should receive arms across the border, and Turkey is helping to pay for the weapons along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the New York Times reported June 21, citing U.S. and Arab officials.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed hopes that Turkey and Syria will show restraint and resolve the issue through diplomatic channels, the Turkish news service Anatolia said, citing his spokesman, Martin Nesirky.
UN Syria envoy Kofi Annan, speaking on June 22 before the Turkish plane was reported missing, said that talks are under way for a conference on Syria to be held in Geneva on June 30, to which all potential contributors to a solution would be invited.