News / Middle East

Turkey Mourns 2 Pilots Downed by Syria

Turkish soldiers carry the coffins of fallen Turkish pilots, Captain Gokhan Ertan and Lieutenant Hasan Huseyin Aksoy, during an official farewell ceremony at the 7th Jet Main Air Base in the eastern Turkish city of Malatya July 6, 2012.
Turkish soldiers carry the coffins of fallen Turkish pilots, Captain Gokhan Ertan and Lieutenant Hasan Huseyin Aksoy, during an official farewell ceremony at the 7th Jet Main Air Base in the eastern Turkish city of Malatya July 6, 2012.
Dorian Jones
ISTANBUL, Turkey -- The two Turkish pilots of the warplane that was shot down last month by Syrian forces were buried Friday with full military honors and Turkey's political leaders present.

The coffins of the two pilots were draped in Turkish flags and carried by soldiers in a funeral ceremony with full military honors.

The ceremony  was held at the Erhac airbase in eastern Turkey, where the pilots' warplane left on its ill fated operation.

The bodies were recovered from  the bottom of the Mediterranean with the assistance of a U.S. search vessel.

Attending the funeral were Turkey's political and military leadership led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Addressing the ceremony, Turkish air force General Mustafa Avci reiterated the country's anger over the circumstances of the shooting down of the plane.

He said the two pilots were killed in international waters of the Mediterranean while performing an unarmed mission. And that the two pilots were heroes and offered his condolences to the families.

  • From left to right, Republican People's Party Leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, Chief of Staff General Necdet Ozel, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Chairman of Parliament Cemil Cicek pray at the farewell ceremony, Malatya, Turkey, July 6, 2012.
  • Turkish soldiers carry the coffins of fallen Turkish pilots, Captain Gokhan Ertan and Lieutenant Hasan Huseyin Aksoy, Malatya, Turkey, July 6, 2012.
  • Nihal Ertan, wife of fallen pilot Captain Gokhan Ertan, kisses the coffin of her husband during an official farewell ceremony at the 7th Jet Main Air Base, Malatya, Turkey, July 6, 2012.
  • This photo taken July 4, 2012 and provided by the Turkish military shows the helmet of one of the Turkish pilots of a jet shot down by Syrian forces on June 22, 2012.
  • This photo taken July 4, 2012 and provided by the Turkish military, shows wreckage retrieved from the sea after a Turkish RF-4 Phantom jet which was shot down by Syrian forces June 22, 2012.
  • The wheel of the jet shot down by Syrian forces on June 22, 2012 resting on the seabed. (AP/Turkish military)

Damascus says the jet was shot down close to its coast over its territorial waters. Both sides dispute how the plane was downed with Ankara claiming it was hit by a missile while Damascus insists it was anti-aircraft fire.

With the wreckage of the plane now found, analysts say many questions about the shooting may now be answered. In an interview published Monday in a Turkish newspaper, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he regretted the incident, but did not apologize.

The downing of the plane has seen a heightening of tensions between the two neighbors. Mr. Erdogan has accused Syria of a presenting a clear and present danger and has increased the numbers of military forces on the 900 kilometer Syrian border.  Ankara is also providing sanctuary to over 30,000 Syrian refugees, including the leadership and members of the Free Syrian Army which is fighting  Assad's forces.

On Thursday Brigadier General Manaf Tlass of Syria's elite Republican guard reportedly fled to Turkey. Despite the deaths of the two pilots, opinion polls found the overwhelming majority of Turks oppose any military confrontation with Syria.

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