Syrian plane carried ‘Russian ammunition’: Turkey

Turkey has allowed a Syrian passenger plane, which was forced to land in its capital Ankara on Wednesday, to leave after seizing "illegal cargo".

Zeenews Bureau

Ankara: Reaffirming Turkish stance on Syrian plane’s interception, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that the Syria bound plane coming from Moscow was carrying Russian-made defence equipments and ammunition destined for the Syrian Defense Ministry.

"These were equipment and ammunitions that were being sent from a Russian agency ... to the Syrian Defense Ministry," Erdogan told reporters in Ankara.

"Their examination is continuing and the necessary (action) will follow," he added.

Rubbishing Syria’s denial that there was anything illegal aboard Airbus A320 Erdogan said, "Passenger aircraft cannot carry ammunition and defence equipment”.

Claiming that it there was illegal cargo aboard, Turkish fighter jets on Wednesday evening intercepted the plane coming from Russia Air Airbus A320 with about 30 passengers on board and made it land in Ankara which led Syria to react fiercely and brand it as an act of “air piracy”.

Relations between Turkey and Syria have already been sore over Syrian conflict and this incident will only add to the prevailing tensions as Syria’s ally Russia too pitched in to raise the heat, accusing Turkey of endangering passengers’ lives.

But Turkish officials rejected Russia’s claims that passengers were ill-treated, issuing a statement saying that the passengers were allowed to leave the plane if they wanted and that there was a medical crew and ambulances on standby. The statement also said that the pilot did not provide a passenger list and therefore Turkish officials did not know there were Russians on board until after it landed.

Also, PM Erdogan said that Turkey was examining the Russia-made defense equipments and that "necessary (action) will follow".

Yeni Safak, a newspaper close to the Turkish government, reported Thursday there were 10 containers aboard the plane, whose contents included radio receivers, antennas and equipment "thought to be missile parts."

Turkish state-run television TRT also reported the plane was carrying military communications equipment.

The plane was allowed to continue to Damascus after several hours, without the cargo.

Erdogan refused to say how — or from whom — Turkey had learned that the twice-weekly scheduled flight would be used to transport military gear to Syria.

"As you will appreciate, those who gave the tip, which establishments, these things cannot be disclosed," he said.

Turkey has called for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down and Damascus accusing Turkey of supporting the rebels. The two neighbors have traded artillery fire over Syria`s northern border throughout the past week.

Hours before, the Turkish statement Russian Ambassador Vladimir Ivanovsky had held talks with Turkish officials at the Foreign Ministry.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich had said earlier Thursday that Moscow was concerned that lives and safety of the 35 passengers, including 17 Russian citizens, had been endangered.

He said Turkey without explanation denied Russian consular officials and a doctor access to the passengers, who had not been allowed into the airport for eight hours or provided with food.

"The Russian side continues to insist on an explanation for the Turkish authorities` actions toward Russian citizens and on the adoption of measures to avoid such incidents in the future," Lukashevich said in a statement.

Turkey`s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that the pilot of the Syrian Air plane from Moscow had been warned of Turkey`s intention to ground it as he approached from the Black Sea on Wednesday evening. It said he was given the chance to turn back, but that he decided to continue his course.

Separately, the Foreign Ministry said it had submitted a formal protest note to Syria for the violation of civil aviation rules and declared Syrian air space unsafe for Turkish planes.

Syrian Transportation Minister Mohammad Ibrahim said Turkey`s decision to force the plane to land amounted to piracy.

The general manager of the Syrian Civil Aviation Agency also blasted Turkey`s forced landing of the plane, calling it "contrary to regulations and aviation norms."

Ghaidaa Abdul-Latif told reporters in Damascus that the plane`s pilots were not asked to land but were instead surprised by Turkish F-16 fighter jets, which forced them to land.

A Syrian Airlines engineer who was aboard, Haithan Kasser, said armed Turkish officials boarded the plane and handcuffed the crew before inspecting packages that he said contained electrical equipment.

Abdul-Latif said the officials seized some packages after presenting official documents.

Turkey`s Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim said on Thursday that the cargo "was not suitable for a civil plane."

The Moscow airport that cleared the Syrian plane for takeoff denied there was any forbidden cargo on board.

"No objects whose transportation would have been forbidden under aviation regulations were on board," said Vnukovo Airport spokeswoman Yelena Krylova, ITAR-Tass reported

A Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman also denied that the plane carried any arms or prohibited goods and called on Turkey to return the plane`s full contents.

With Agency Inputs