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Turkey downs Syrian jet near border 'for airspace violation'

Published time: March 23, 2014 12:42
Edited time: March 23, 2014 16:56
Turkish F-16 fighter jet (Reuters / Umit Bektas)

Turkish F-16 fighter jet (Reuters / Umit Bektas)

A Syrian military jet has been intercepted near the Syrian-Turkish border after it violated the Turkish airspace, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said. Conflicting reports said the jet was shot down from the ground and crashed on the Syrian side.

The Syrian Air Force jet was shot down near the Kasab crossing in Latakia province, where fierce fighting between Syrian forces and armed insurgents has been going on for three days, Reuters reported.

Addressing supporters at a Sunday rally, Erdogan confirmed that Turkish armed forces had downed the jet.

“A Syrian plane violated our airspace. Our F-16s took off and hit this plane. Why? Because if you violate my airspace, our slap after this will be hard,” Erdogan said, congratulating the Turkish Air Force on its actions.

The General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces issued a statement saying the downed jet flew 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) into Turkish airspace despite warnings. According to the statement, two Syrian MiG-23 fighter jets approached the Turkish border. When the jets came within 10 nautical miles of the border, Turkish forces sent out “four warning signals.” One of the MiGs left, while the other was intercepted by two Turkish F-16s after breaching the airspace, the General Staff claimed.

The statement noted that the jet went down “1,200 meters to the south of the border on the Syrian territory in Kasab region,” adding that Turkish border guards “observed its fall.”

Earlier reports suggested the jet came down in Syrian territory while bombing targets in Latakia.

“Turkish air defenses targeted a Syrian fighter bomber as it struck areas of the northern province of Latakia. The plane caught fire and crashed in Syrian territory,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights was quoted as saying by AFP.

Turkey’s Doğan News Agency claimed that the jet crashed in the buffer zone between the Syrian region and Turkey’s Hatay Province. Hatay, formerly Sanjak of Alexandretta, was annexed by Turkey in 1939. Damascus has not officially relinquished its rights of sovereignty over the territory, although during Syrian-Turkish discussions in 2005, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government said it did not have such claims.

Recently, the Syrian government has complained to the UN that Turkey was providing cover to rebels crossing the border from Turkish territory. The accusations were prompted by fighting at Kasab, which the insurgents view as a key crossing and a springboard for their latest offensive in Latakia. On Tuesday, Al-Qaeda-affiliated, al-Nusra Front, and Islamist groups, Sham al-Islam and Ansar al-Sham, announced the launch of an attack on Latakia they dubbed “Anfal.”

Syria reacted to the downing of the jet by calling it blatant Turkish aggression.

A Syrian Air Force spokesman was quoted as saying, by the SANA agency, that Turkish forces carried out a “downright aggressive action” by firing at a jet that was “pursuing the gangs of terrorists over the Syrian territory and did not violate the Turkish airspace.”

The pilot of the plane managed to eject on time, the Syrian official added.

The fighting in Latakia province, in which insurgents have been attempting to seize pro-government Alawite villages and Syrian forces have retaliated with air raids, has left at least 80 people dead on both sides of the conflict since March 21, according to the UK-based Observatory.