Al-Assad regrets jet hit as Ankara vows payback
Syria’s President al-Assad is seen during an interview with a Turkish daily Cumhuriyet. He refuses to apologize from Turkey over downing jet incident. AFP photoSyrian President Bashar al-Assad said yesterday that he regretted that his country’s defense forces had shot down a Turkish fighter jet on June 22, but still insisted the plane was in Syrian airspace.
“I would have wished 100 percent that we had not attacked it,” he said, two weeks after the F-4 Phantom jet on a training mission was shot at and crashed into the Mediterranean off Syria.
Al-Assad offered no apology for the downing of the plane, insisting it had been shot down over Syria and that his forces had acted in self-defense.
“The plane was flying in an air corridor used three times in the past by the Israeli air force,” al-Assad said, explaining his military’s action in an interview with Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet. Turkey says the jet was hit in international airspace after it had briefly strayed into Syria.
“A country at war always acts like this; this plane was flying at a very low altitude and was shot down by anti-aircraft defenses, which mistook it for a plane from Israel that attacked Syria in 2007,” al-Assad said.
“We are in a state of war, so every unidentified plane is an enemy plane,” the paper quoted al-Assad as saying. “Let me state it again: We did not have the slightest idea about its identity when we shot it down.” Turkey, however, has insisted that the plane’s electronic signals, which indicate if an aircraft is friend or foe, were activated during the entire flight.
Al-Assad said the soldier who shot down the plane had no radar and could not know to which country the plane belonged. He also sent his condolences to the families of the downed plane’s two pilots, who have not been found.
“If this plane had been shot down in international airspace [as maintained by Ankara] we would not have hesitated to apologize,” he added. He said the rising of tensions could have been prevented if channels of communication between the two militaries had remained open, criticizing Turkey’s earlier decision to cut off communication between the two.
The Syrian leader also expressed the desire to turn the page on the incident, which has fueled tensions between the two former allies. “We do not want to even consider that this plane was sent deliberately into our airspace,” al-Assad said. “We want to think of it as a pilot’s error and we would consider this an isolated incident, which shouldn’t be exaggerated ... We have nothing to gain by attacking a Turkish fighter jet.”
In another bid to assuage relations with Ankara, al-Assad said Syria had no plans to send troops to the border with Turkey, even after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan sent reinforcements of Turkish troops to the frontier.
“Despite whatever the Erdoðan government does, we will not proceed with a concentration of troops at the border,” said al-Assad. Commenting for the first time on a U.N.-brokered plan for a political transition in Syria that was adopted by world powers at a conference in Geneva on June 30, al-Assad said he was “pleased” that the decision about Syria’s future had been left to its people.
Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff.
Ankara dismisses Assad’s remarks about jet crisis
ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu (L) meets with Egypt’s new President
Mohamed Morsi in Cairo, before attending a meeting on Syria crisis. AA photo
Dismissing Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s remarks to a Turkish newspaper, in which he expressed regret over the shooting down of a Turkish jet by his military forces, Ankara regards his statements as a follow-up to a campaign of distorting the state of affairs concerning the incident.
Al-Assad was trying to curry favor with the public, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said, dismissing the suggestion that the Turkish plane was flying in airspace often used by Israel.
“All these remarks are part of an approach aiming to manufacture public opinion, because it is nothing new that Israel uses these corridors, they constantly use them,” Bozdağ said in a televised interview yesterday. “If the Syrian administration says it shot down the plane presuming it was an Israeli one, then they would have shot many Israeli planes down by now.”
The minister also dismissed the claim that Syrian radar could not detect the plane, Bozdağ said, dismissing al-Assad’s argument that Syria was not aware it had shot down a Turkish aircraft. Syria’s radar systems have the capability to detect approaching planes, Bozdağ said, and the Syrians should have been able to identify the Turkish plane because it was carrying the necessary identification systems. Syrian forces could also hear Turkey’s radar system warning its plane, he said.
The downing of the Turkish plane is “a crime which will not remain unpunished,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said in a televised interview yesterday. He said any attack on Turkish borders would be assumed to be an attack against NATO.
The foreign minister said the Syrian administration should step down. “Russia and China have come to the conclusion that a change is necessary [in Syria’s administration].”
“Neither al-Assad or anyone else, only the Syrian people, can decide who will govern Syria,” the minister said. No authority could be above the will of Syrian people, Davutoğlu said. “In such a case, they can’t say the [Syrian] administration has been handed over to a transitional government.”
Meanwhile two 2XF-16 fighter jets scrambled on July 2 from İncirlik base after seeing Syrian helicopters near the Turkish border were flying a patrol flight over the Adana-Hatay area, the Turkish General Staff said in a statement yesterday.