Syria downplays shooting down of Turkish aircraft

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Ankara, June 24: Syria on Saturday said it shot down a Turkish military jet for violating its airspace and said it was not a pro-war move. Turkey, however, threatened to retaliate although it did not specify details of its action. It said the focus at the moment was more on the missing pilots of the aircraft.

The shooting-down episode intensified tension between the two neighbours ever since a violence broke out Syria early last year. Turkey has been one of the strongest critic of the Bashar al-Assad regime and provides shelter to civil and military groups opposed to the dictatorial rule. Ankara was also suspicious that Damascus, which once had joined hands with the former to fight against Kurdish rebels seeking autonomy, was now turning a blind eye towards the Kurdish fighters in Syria.

The Turkish aircraft, an unarmed F-4, fell into the Mediterranean Sea near the Syrian town of Lakatia, sources said. Syria, which accused the plane of violating its air, said its forces came to learn that the aircraft belonged to Turkey only after gunning it down. Syrian foreign ministry sources later clarified before a Turkish news channel that the move was not an attack. "It was just an act to defend our sovereignty," Syrian sources said.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul, meanwhile, said that the F-4 might have unintentionally intruded into the Syrian airspace but said it was routine exercise for jets to cross borders for short stints. He, however, did not explain the plane's actual mission. Gul said his government was investigating the incident. Turkey though said it would take necessary steps but it was not clear what would be the nature of response - a military retaliation or just seeking a compensation or an apology. The mood at the Turkish establishment was, however, angry even as Damascus tried to prove it was an exceptional case. "We must not remain silent," said a Turkish minister.

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