Turkey says it shot down Assad helicopter, Syria TV reports it was drone
Fevzi Kızılkoyun - ANKARA
F-16D Fighting Falcon is one of the fighter jet types in Turkey's inventory. Photo courtesy: Turkish Air ForcesTurkey has announced that its jets shot down a Syrian helicopter violating its airspace on May 16, while Syrian state TV reported that it was a surveillance drone that was downed.
It was not immediately clear what kind of aircraft was shot down. “The area is being searched for the downed aircraft. It will soon be seen if it was a plane or a helicopter,” the source said.
Turkish locals told daily Hürriyet that a Syrian military plane violated the Turkish border twice in the Dursunlu-Emek area of the southern border province of Hatay. They added that the aircraft fell into the Syrian side of the border in three pieces.
Syrian state media said that what had been shot down was a small, remotely controlled surveillance drone, according to Reuters.
In the evening, Turkish Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz said a Syrian helicopter that entered Turkish airspace shortly after 2 p.m. (1100 GMT) and flew seven miles inside, over a period of five minutes, was fired upon and shot down.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu later confirmed that the aircraft was a helicopter.
“It is an important incident for Turkey to show its decisiveness,” Davutoğlu said, adding that the move was in accordance to Turkey’s rules of engagement. “I hope that the message is taken and nobody will ever dare to violate our borders.”
The brief statement of the Turkish Armed Forces, on the other hand, said it shot down an aircraft, without specifying its type, and noted that its pieces fell onto the Syrian side of the border.
The May 16 incident was not the first time that the two countries’ air forces have engaged militarily.
A Turkish F-4 Phantom warplane crashed into the Mediterranean on June 22, 2012, after being shot down by Syria.
On Sept 16, 2013, the Turkish Air Force shot down a Syrian helicopter at the border after it reportedly violated Turkey’s airspace.
Turkish fighter jets also downed a Syrian jet on March 23, 2014, after it crossed into Turkish airspace, a week before local elections.
Allegations of impending military intervention
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Secretary General Gürsel Tekin had claimed earlier this month that Turkey was planning to launch a military operation in Syria ahead of the June 7 general elections.
Turkish government officials strictly denied the claim last week.
NATO member Turkey has a 900-km (560-mile) border with Syria and has been outspoken in its hostility to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Al-Assad has said Turkish support was a key factor in helping militant Islamist insurgents seize the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib earlier this year.
Turkey denied that allegation and any suggestion it has delivered arms to Islamist militants fighting to overthrow al-Assad.