Syrian forces didn’t know they had shot down a Turkish military jet until after the incident, according to Riad Haddad, the country’s ambassador to Russia.
The F-4 Phantom that was downed on June 22 evaded radar as it flew through Syrian airspace at low altitude, and was targeted by anti-aircraft guns as it approached the city of Lattakia, Haddad said in an interview today. The stricken plane turned around and crashed in Syrian waters, he said.
“We didn’t know what this plane was,” said Haddad. “If a Syrian plane had flown like that, it would also have been downed. We only found out it was a Turkish plane once we had sent rescue ships to the area and they saw three Turkish helicopters searching for the jet.”
Turkey, which met fellow-members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Brussels today to discuss the incident, says Syrian forces were aware of the aircraft’s identity before downing it in international airspace.
Turkey’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ertugrul Apakan, in a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday cited “radio communication among Syrian authorities” as evidence of their assertion. He said Syrian forces subsequently also opened fire on a Turkish rescue plane.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said today that following the destruction of its aircraft, Turkey is ready to attack any Syrian military forces that approach its border and are deemed a threat.
Haddad denied any targeting of a Turkish rescue plane and said that Syrian forces had registered two or three violations of the country’s airspace by Turkish military jets in the days leading up to the June 22 incident. “We don’t want problems with Turkey, so we didn’t act,” he said.
“We didn’t violate any international law,” said the Syrian envoy. “We defended our sovereignty.”
Russia, which has blocked UN Security Council action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, warned against using the downing of the Turkish military jet for political purposes, saying the incident was unintentional.
“An escalation of political propaganda, including at the international level, is especially dangerous,” as efforts are under way to resolve the country’s 16-month conflict, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website today.
An international conference aimed at halting the violence in Syria is scheduled to take place in Geneva on June 28.
The shooting down of the plane has provided Turkey an excuse to approach NATO, said Alexei Pushkov, the head of the Russian lower house of parliament’s foreign affairs committee.
While NATO won’t launch a military attack on Syria without UN approval, “if there is an attack on the armed forces of a NATO member it is quite another situation and NATO then gets a moral justification for intervention,” Pushkov said yesterday in an interview in Jerusalem while accompanying President Vladimir Putin on a visit to Israel. “This is a very dangerous trend.”
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