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LOCAL > PM could not yet confirm Turkish war plane shut down by Syria

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News

Two Turkish pilots go missing as their warplane goes down off Syria; PM Erdoğan does not immediately confirm whether or not the aircraft was shot down

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Syria shot down a Turkish jet on June 22, an official told the Hürriyet Daily News, adding that Damascus expressed sorrow over the incident and was cooperating with Ankara in search and rescue efforts for two Turkish pilots in Syrian territorial waters.

The information, however, was not confirmed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan late June 22 who said “I cannot say that it was shot down. I can’t say it before obtaining concrete information,” in a press conference he held just before a high level security summit. He also could not confirm whether Syria expressed sorrow or apologized for the incident, saying “I cannot confirm whether they have apologized of on what grounds they did so if they apologized.” Despite reports that two Turkish pilots ejected from the plane and they were safe, Erdoğan said “there was no information on the state of the pilots.” But he denied reports that Turkish pilots were taken hostage by Syrian forces. In his separate dialogue with journalists travelling with him, Erdoğan “If this is true, then there would be a great problem.”

The incident could potentially add more tension to the already-tense relations between Turkey and Syria over Bashar al-Assad’s oppression against his own people.

Plane crashes at noon
It was not clear exactly how or where the incident occurred, but the military’s earlier statement said the connection with the Turkish F-4 aircraft was lost at 11:58 a.m., over the sea just off the southwest of the Hatay province, bordering Syria. The plane had taken off from the Erhaç airbase in Malatya, Central Anatolia at 10:00 a.m. It was also not clear what purpose the Turkish jet was serving in that region, but there are unconfirmed reports that it was carrying out a reconnaissance flight. It is not known whether the plane was shot down by a Syrian jet or by a surface to air missile.

The NTV private news channel reported that the plane had crashed in Syrian territorial waters, but that there had been no violation of the Syrian border, citing unnamed military sources.

According to information the Daily News gathered from official sources, the Turkish military launched a broad search and rescue operation to find the plane and the two pilots who ejected themselves and fell in the water.

Sources said Syria had dispatched three guard boats to contribute to Turkish efforts, as the search was taking place in Syrian territorial waters. The first news that Syria shot the Turkish jet down came from local sources in Lebanon and Syria. Erdoğan said alongside with Turkey’s four guard boats Syria joined efforts with own vessels.

A local witness has told RT Arabic that the plane crashed on Syrian territory and that the two pilots were captured.

The craft was shot down as the Syrian air defense opened fire, according to Lebanon-based pan-Arab Al-Mayadeen TV. These reports are yet to be confirmed.

Turkey has joined nations such as the United States in saying that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should step down because of the uprising in his country that has killed thousands of people.

Turkey also has set up refugee camps on its border for more than 32,000 Syrians who have fled the fighting.

June/22/2012

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