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INTERNATIONAL > Plane crisis adds to Turkey-Syria tension

ANKARA / DAMASCUS

Already heightened tension between Turkey and Syria reaches a new high after Turkey intercepts a Damascus-bound plane under suspicion it is carrying non-civilian cargo

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The Syrian Air plane took off for Damascus after nine hours of inspections in Ankara. DAILY NEWS photo

The Syrian Air plane took off for Damascus after nine hours of inspections in Ankara. DAILY NEWS photo

Sevil Erkuş Sevil Erkuş sevil.kucukkosum@hdn.com.tr

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.”

October/12/2012

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READER COMMENTS

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turkic voice

10/12/2012 11:53:30 PM

Sam Steel, i know of a country that would have just shot down a inocent plane carriying humanitarian aid food and medical supplies in international waters..... do you know what country i speak of?

Adam Polk

10/12/2012 3:56:54 PM

Nikos T., Russians say the shipment was radar systems, it seems turkey was right after all.

mara mcglothin

10/12/2012 3:40:55 PM

It seems to me that Turkey has every right to defend the Turkish air space. There are two side of the story and between Russian version and the Turkish version there probably isn't any truth to what went on. As in everything else that goes on in Turkey, we will never know the full story, so it is pointless to talk about.

cloud chaser

10/12/2012 11:02:06 AM

As for Marmara comparison - very few common issues. The plane was not warned before it even left that it would be stopped. An airplane can't be boarded in the air. The plane, once discovering it was surrounded by fighter craft, diverted. I wonder if the fighters would have opened fire on the plane, and if sop - what the international response would have been.

cloud chaser

10/12/2012 10:58:33 AM

As far as I can tell, both Russian and Turkish media has very little credibility. Both are very heavily biased towards respective local patriotism. The Russians don't give a damn about the truth, the Turks are only slightly better. That said - no evidence of the actual cargo has been produced, and this is the very first mention of early warning. I wish they would release the black box tapes, so we can know for certain what was, and wasn't communicated before entering Turkish airspace.

Sam Steel

10/12/2012 10:48:50 AM

@Adam: Actually, I do not believe anyones side of the story, but I think a little before believing anything on media. so you tell me, does that make sense to you that a pilot ignores airforce warnings and chooses to go through an airspace of a hostile country (yes hostile, given the events in the last year and a half) knowing his plane will be grounded then inspected? especially if he actually had anything illegal on board? That story does not add up, so there is a lie there somewhere.

Nikos T.

10/12/2012 10:44:02 AM

If I were to chose between Russian and Turk side of the story I would pick the Russian with my eyes closed. Turkish official reports have proven false for 1000 times. Let me remind you all the lies they were saying about the Turkish plane that was shot by Syrians and the other one by Greeks. Let me remind you the lies of not helping Syrian terrorists and mercenaries when they were doing exactly the opposite. Truth is the last think they care about. I guess it's you who has to think a little more

Adam Polk

10/12/2012 10:29:43 AM

Nikos T., and sam, so you guys saying everything Russian tvs reported or claimed true but everything Turkish authorities announced lies. lets be objective. turkey didn't do this just for fun. please think little bit before you post.

Nikos T.

10/12/2012 10:20:56 AM

@Adam, that's only the Turkish side of the story. If they had found such supplies why did they forced passengers and pilot to sign fake papers? And where are these supplies now? I wonder who the dictator is?

Sam Steel

10/12/2012 10:05:36 AM

@Adam Polk: The facts are Turkish authorities are telling lies, The pilot was not warned the pilot was told to divert and he saw the F16s around him. How stupid do you think civilian pilots are? what did he think he can make a run for it to get to Syria over more than 1000km of Turkish airspace? Seriously? Yesterday they said it was military communications equipment, today the PM is saying it is ammunition, tomorrow they will say it is chemical weapons.
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