In reversal, Turkey now says plane Syria shot down was over international waters

McClatchy NewspapersJune 23, 2012 

— Turkey on Sunday called for a meeting of its NATO allies after charging that Syria’s shoot-down of a Turkish F4 Phantom jet Friday had occurred over international waters without any warning.

The report was a reversal of Turkey’s statement Saturday that its plane had strayed over Syrian airspace.

Both the United States and Great Britain denounced Syria in response to the new Turkish details, and the North Atlantic Council set a meeting for Tuesday under Article IV of the NATO treaty, under which any party can call for consultations if it feels its territory or security is threatened. The meeting, however, falls well short of calling for military support under Article V.

A Turkish spokesman said Turkey would use the meeting to brief NATO allies and exchange information. He said Ankara reserves the right to respond to the Syrian action at a time and manner of its choosing. A NATO spokesman said the alliance would consult on the incident and decide if further steps are appropriate.

William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary, condemned “this outrageous act,” and said it underscored the need for replacing the regime of President Bashar Assad, whose government has been besieged by an uprising calling for his resignation since March of last year.

In a statement, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the downing of the plane a “brazen and unacceptable act” and said it was “yet another reflection of the Syrian authorities’ callous disregard for international norms, human life, and peace and security.” She said the United States would work with Turkey “and other partners to hold the Assad regime accountable.”

Syria has claimed that it had brought down the aircraft over Syrian territorial waters Friday after the plane had crossed into Syrian air space. On Saturday Turkey acknowledged that the plane, an Israeli-modified reconnaissance version of the U.S.-built interceptor, had strayed into Syrian air space in the course of a reconnaissance mission.

But on Sunday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davitoglu said the unarmed plane, with a crew of two, was fired on after it had left Syrian air space and rejected Syria’s claim that it had not known the aircraft belonged to the Turkish air force.

The Turkish military has determined the location of the crash but not yet salvaged the aircraft and is still searching the area in case either of the crew survived. Syria said it also was searching for the aircraft, but according to Davitoglu, the two sides are operating independently.

A Turkish government spokesman, Selcuk Unal, said Sunday that the plane had been on a training mission to test Turkey’s own air defenses when it crossed into Syrian airspace. After Turkish air controllers warned that the plane was off course, the pilot undertook a second mission, but this time stayed within Turkish waters, Unal said.

He said Syria fired the missile that brought the plane down a full 15 minutes after the initial inadvertent crossing into Syrian air space.

“That 15 minutes is quite important,” Unal said. He added Syria’s claim that its forces were unaware of the origin of the plane was not credible because the aircraft was regularly signaling its identity through an open IFF -- identification friend or foe – radio.

In addition, he said Turkey had monitored the Syrian communications and determined that Syrian authorities were aware that it was a Turkish plane.

Email: rgutman@mcclatchydc.com

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