Syria Knew Identity of Jet Before Shooting, Turkey Says

Turkey’s Ambassador to the United Nations Ertugrul Apakan
Turkey’s ambassador to the United Nations Ertugrul Apakan said Syrian forces also shot at a Turkish rescue plane even after Turkey “established coordination with the Syrian authorities.” Photographer: Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images

Turkey is ready to open fire on any Syrian military forces that approach its border and are deemed a threat after the shooting down of a Turkish warplane by Syria last week, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

The attack in international airspace shows that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad poses a “clear and present danger” to Turkey as well as to the Syrian people, Erdogan told lawmakers from his party in Ankara today.

Under new rules of engagement for the Turkish army, “any military element that approaches the Turkish border from Syria in a way that may pose a risk or danger will be viewed as a threat and treated as a military target,” he said. Syrian security forces have frequently carried out operations against opposition forces near the border area as part of Assad’s 15-month crackdown.

Turkey’s warning escalates the risk that the civil conflict may draw in Syria’s neighbors. Ties between the former allies have deteriorated as the death toll in Syria mounts, with more than 10,000 dead according to the United Nations. Erdogan has called on Assad to step down and some of the main Syrian opposition groups are operating from Turkish bases.

Turkey summoned a meeting of its fellow members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Brussels today to discuss the destruction of its plane, an F-4 Phantom, on June 22. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after the talks that the Syrian action was “unacceptable” and the alliance will “follow the situation closely.”

No Immediate Action

“I don’t think we should expect any immediate actions” from Turkey, which will be unwilling to act alone and would require “very strong backing from the West as well as from key Arab states,” said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. Still, he said, “the longer this goes on, the more pressure there will be for countries to act, and for Turkey to act.”

Syrian authorities knew that the jet was Turkish when they shot it down, Turkey’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ertugrul Apakan, said in a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday, citing Syrian radio communications. He said a Turkish rescue plane was also fired at.

Syria’s ambassador to Russia, Riad Haddad, said in an interview today that Syrian forces didn’t know that the plane was Turkish when anti-aircraft artillery shot it down as it approached Lattakia. He said they only found that out when Syrian rescue ships saw three Turkish helicopters searching for the plane.

‘Clear Violation’

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi yesterday described the shooting as a defensive act following a “clear violation of Syrian sovereignty,” and also as an “accident.”

Syria has criticized its northern neighbor for hosting groups working to oust Assad. U.S. intelligence officials in southern Turkey are helping channel arms paid for by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to Syrian opposition groups, the New York Times reported last week. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry denied the report.

Syrian security forces killed 57 people today, Al Jazeera television reported. About 100 people were killed in fighting yesterday, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said in a phone interview from the U.K. He said clashes were reported today at the headquarters of the Republican Guards outside Damascus.

Article Four

Turkey invoked article four of the NATO treaty in seeking today’s meeting, Bulent Arinc, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, told the state-run Anatolia news agency late yesterday. The article entitles a member country that is attacked or threatened to summon the rest of the alliance for consultations.

Turkey hasn’t invoked article five, which requires members to recognize an attack on one as an attack on all and to assist the violated country in any action it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, Arinc said.

The Turkish lira and bonds recouped losses today after declining yesterday following the government’s pledge to take action against Syria. Yields on benchmark two-year debt fell back to 8.80 today, the same as last week’s close, after surging 12 basis points yesterday.

The U.S. has backed the Turkish account of the plane’s downing.

“There was no warning to this aircraft, it was just shot out of the sky,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday. “And that obviously is not in keeping with international norms in such incidents.”

Turkish and Syrian officials say the two missing Turkish airmen haven’t been found, though aircraft wreckage has been discovered.

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