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Turkey's President: Warplane May Have Crossed Syrian Border

  • Dorian Jones

Turkish President Abdullah Gul (May 21, 2012).

Turkish President Abdullah Gul (May 21, 2012).

ISTANBUL, Turkey - Syria says it shot down a Turkish fighter jet because it trespassed on Syria's territorial waters. In Turkey, the government has reacted carefully and cautiously to this potentially explosive incident; the prime minister says Turkey will respond once all the facts are known. A search is still under way for the two pilots from the downed plane.

Syrian authorities said they downed the Turkish fighter jet in accordance with laws that govern such situations. They said Syria's defense systems shot a jet flying fast and low, close to the Syrian coast.

Turkish president Abdullah Gul says the incident cannot be ignored. He says it is not possible to cover over a thing like this, and adds that whatever is necessary will no doubt be done,

Gul acknowledged that Turkey's warplane could have violated Syrian airspace.

He says, jets flying fast often briefly cross into other countries' airspace. He adds that this is nothing unusual, and promises that a full investigation will be carried out, "with nothing hidden."

The president's measured approach follows that of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said Friday that Turkey will act once the full facts are known.

Observers say this is a restrained approach, uncharacteristic for Erdoghan, who has in the past few months launched withering attacks on the violent tactics used by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government in its assault on protesters.

Relations between Syria and Turkey are extremely tense, since Ankara has given strong backing to anti-regime forces in Syria. But the air action on Friday has complicated the situation.

Opposition political figures in Turkey have questions about the downed plane's mission, and they are asking why the jet was flying so close to Syria or even entered Syrian airspace at such a tense time.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the aircraft, a U.S.-made F-4, was used for reconnaissance. Syria has repeatedly charged Turkey with funneling reconnaissance information to rebels in Syria, and also sending them arms, but authorities in Ankara have denied those accusation.

Analysts say the final outcome of the incident over the Mediterranean - both a precise location of where the jet was when it was shot down, and the fate of the pilots, could well dictate Ankara's eventual response to Damascus.
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