Plane crisis adds to Turkey-Syria tension
ANKARA / DAMASCUS
The Syrian Air plane took off for Damascus after nine hours of inspections in Ankara. DAILY NEWS photo
A civilian Syrian passenger airplane flying from Moscow to Damascus was forced to land at Ankara’s Esenboğa Airport late on Oct. 10, and some of the cargo aboard was seized due to intelligence that it included material in violation of international civil aviation rules. Turkey allowed the aircraft to take off and continue on its route after seizing its cargo and grounding it for nine hours.
Ankara issued a diplomatic note to the Syrian Consulate in Istanbul yesterday. “The plane’s cargo was inconsistent with its bills of lading, and the cargo may have had a military purpose. The receiver [of the cargo] was listed as the Syrian Defense Ministry,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry official told Hürriyet Daily News yesterday. The cargo has been seized, not confiscated as yet, but probably will be confiscated, he said. “We are not prepared to comment on the description of the cargo. We will discuss it after we finish examining it,” he said.
“We are determined not to allow arms supply via Turkish airspace to a regime that is resorting to cruelty against its own people. Trying to do so by using our airspace is unacceptable,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said, a few hours after the plane landed, escorted by two Turkish F-16 jets. Turkish planes do not use Syrian airspace any longer because Syrian air space is not secure for Turkish planes, he said.
Turkey summons envoy
It was not important where the plane took off from, Davutoğlu said, hinting that the situation will not affect Ankara-Moscow relations while dismissing rumors over the coincidence that the incident occurred the very same day that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Turkey was canceled.
However, Russia slammed Ankara, demanding that Turkey explain its interception of the Syrian plane flying from Moscow and saying Ankara had put the lives of passengers at risk. Russia’s Foreign Ministry also listed a number of what it saw as serious shortcomings by the Turkish authorities in their handling of the incident. “The Turkish side did not inform the Russian embassy in Ankara that there were Russian citizens among the detained plane’s passengers,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said. “We found out about this from news websites. The embassy demanded the Turkish authorities allow access to Russian citizens. Consulate employees and a doctor were sent to the airport. However, Turkish authorities denied the diplomats a meeting with our compatriots, without an explanation,” the statement said. Amid Russia’s accusations, Turkey summoned Russian ambassador to Turkey Vladimir Ivanovsky to the Foreign Ministry yesterday to brief him about the incident. In the meantime, Turkey’s ambassador in Moscow also visited the Russian Foreign Ministry. The Turkish and Russian diplomats exchanged views on the plane incident and agreed that they disagree on the Syria issue, but are firm on keeping this issue separate from Turkey-Russia relations.
‘Pilot was given option’
Turkish Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Feridun Sinirlioğlu informed the Russian ambassador that Turkey had taken care of the Russian citizens aboard the plane during the inspection. He was also informed that “the civilian Syrian passenger plane was carrying military material in violation of civil aviation law,” a Turkish diplomat told the Daily News. “There is no basis for concerns that the safety of the passengers and the plane might have been compromised,” Selçuk Ünal, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a statement. The pilot was given the option to turn back while the plane was flying over the Black Sea, before it entered Turkish airspace, the statement said. “Turkey has found some proof that some of the materials among the cargo… are banned within the framework of the rules of international law and civil aviation rules,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said.
“In conducting this operation Turkey exercised its rights under national and international regulations,” Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım told reporters. “Airspace should always be used for peaceful purposes. Otherwise, we will use our rights stemming from national and international regulations.
Here, we exercised [these rights] and we will exercise them again if necessary.”