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A Syrian plane grounded by Turkish authorities yesterday contained munitions, in violation of civil aviation rules, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
“They are equipment and munitions sent for the Syrian Defense Ministry from a Russian institution” equivalent to Turkey’s state arms manufacturer, Erdogan told a televised news conference in Ankara. He said an inspection was under way by Turkish officials.
Turkish F-16 jets forced the airplane, an Airbus A320 operated by Syrian Arab Airlines and flying from Moscow to Damascus, to land yesterday for a search. The pilot ignored warnings not to enter Turkish airspace, the Foreign Ministry in Ankara said in a statement today.
The confiscation of the cargo added to tensions between the neighbors following the shelling of a Turkish border town by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and Turkish artillery barrages in response over the past week.
The ministry said the pilot failed to provide information about passengers on the airplane, saying Turkey was unaware some were Russian. Seventeen Russians were among more than 30 people aboard the plane, the state-run Anatolia news agency said. The ministry also denied Syrian allegations that some passengers had been mistreated and said Russian officials were routinely informed about the status of their citizens.
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said in a television interview today that Turkey wouldn’t allow “shipments of arms to the dirty war in Syria,” Anatolia said. Turkey has backed the rebels against Assad and allowed their fighters to operate from Turkish territory.
The plane wasn’t carrying any weapons or illegal cargo, and Turkey’s behavior was another sign of its “hostile policy,” Jihad Makdissi, Syria’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a statement today.
Authorities later discovered 12 or 13 crates of equipment destined for the Syrian armed forces, including communications gear and jammers, Istanbul-based Hurriyet newspaper said, without saying where it got the information.
Officials allowed the plane to leave Turkey early today after the search was completed, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.
In an interview published in the Turkish newspaper Aydinlik today, Assad said Syria and Turkey must jointly investigate the shelling in the border town of Akcakale to determine whether an errant Syrian army shell or rebels were to blame.
The president accused Syrian rebels of trying to provoke clashes between Turkey and Syria, and said lack of communication with the Turkish government was hurting ties.
“We have no problems with the Turkish people, Turkish soldier,” Aydinlik quoted Assad as saying. “We have problems with the Turkish government.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Benjamin Harvey in Istanbul at email@example.com; Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at firstname.lastname@example.org
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