Turkey says Syria downed warplane in international airspace

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A Turkish Air Force F-4 war plane fires during a military exercise in Izmir, in this May 26, 2010 file photo.

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 the mission had nothing to do with 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, 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 leaders over Turkey's response in the next two days, and will probably make a statement on the issue on June 26.

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.

NATO meeting

Turkey will call for a special meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on June 26 during which it will cite the alliance's charter, which states that member countries "will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened," the Associated Press said, citing a report today on state television. Davutoglu said last week that Turkey will give detailed information about the incident to fellow members of NATO.

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.

Refugees flee

Erdogan, previously an Assad ally, 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.

US 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 US 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.

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