Syria has confirmed it shot down a Turkish jet, as Turkey promises to “determinedly take necessary steps” in response. An investigation is being planned as tensions escalate.
A Syrian military spokesman said an unidentified aerial object violated the country’s airspace and was shot down by anti-aircraft artillery, hitting it one kilometer off the coast of the country, Syrian state news agency SANA reported.
The plane turned out to be a Turkish fighter jet, and was dealt with in accordance with Syrian law, the spokesman added.
He also stated that Turkey and Syria had started a joint coordinated naval rescue operation.
The Turkish Prime Minister's office issed a statement earlier saying that Syria was behind the downed jet.
"As a result of information obtained from the evaluation of our concerned institutions and from within the joint search and rescue operations with Syria, it is understood that our plane was brought down by Syria," The Prime Minister's office stated.
The office’s statement says Turkey will “decisively” take the necessary measures once all details of the incident come to light, Reuters reports. The search and rescue operation for the missing parts is still underway, the statement says.
The statement was issued after a two-hour meeting between Erdogan, members of the cabinet and the military.
Rescuers have already found an ejector seat and a parachute in the sea, though there were no signs of the plane itself, Turkish state television reported.
Erdogan told reporters that he could not say whether the plane had crashed or had been shot down following initial reports of the incident. He did not confirm reports that Syria had apologized for the supposed downing of the jet.
There have been conflicting reports over the fate of the plane's pilots. RT’s Marina Finoshina reports that Syrian sources indicated that they had been captured, while Turkish media reported that they had been rescued.
The jet was unlikely to be carrying out a simple reconnaissance mission, but was probably a provocative probe to test the Syrian security initiative and ability to protect its borders, believes author and academic Colin S. Cavell. Being a NATO member, Turkey can count on the alliance's support if it comes under attack, he says.
“The F-4 Phantom is utilized and supplied by the US to Turkey, and of course the United States and Turkey can claim that Syria has attacked it,” Cavell told RT. “Of course that would be the ruse they will utilize if they wanted NATO to further intervene. But I don’t think they are going to call on NATO right now.”
Stephen Zunes, a professor of international studies at the University of San Francisco, believes Turkey is trying to find ways of indirectly supporting the opposition.
“What Turkey is trying to do, quite frankly, is it’s trying to support the opposition to try to bring down the regime – but in ways that will minimize the risk of being involved directly in the conflict,” he told RT.
However, Zunes also stressed that in the present situation, both Turkey and Syria were not interested in escalating the conflict.
“Both sides have an interest in trying to defuse the situation,” he said. “Of course there may be outside powers that may find an advantage in exacerbating the problems.”