`Turkish jet may have breached Syria airspace’

Relations between Turkey and Syria were already tense before the downing of the F4 plane.

Updated: Jun 23, 2012, 14:46 PM IST

Zeenews Bureau

Ankara: A day after Syria said it shot down a Turkish military plane, Turkey`s President Abdullah Gul on Saturday said that the downed jet may have violated Syrian airspace.

However, the Turkish President described it as routine for warplanes flying at high speed to cross borders for short distances.

"It is routine for jet fighters to sometimes fly in and out over (national) borders ... when you consider their speed over the sea," Gul told Anatolia news agency.

"These are not ill-intentioned things but happen beyond control due to the jets` speed."

Abdullah Gul said that Turkey was still trying to establish the exact circumstances of the incident.

"Our investigation will focus on whether the plane was brought down within our borders or not," Gul said. "Because the consequences could be quite serious, there will be no clear statement before the details (of the incident) are scrutinized," Gul said.

The plane went down in the Mediterranean Sea about 8 miles (13 kilometers) away from the Syrian town of Latakia, Turkey said.

"No cover up is possible," the state-run news agency quoted Gul as saying. "There is no doubt that the necessary steps will be taken."

Gul did not elaborate on what those steps would be.

The President said that Ankara had been in telephone contact with Damascus and that a search operation for the plane and missing pilots was still underway.

It was the most clear and dramatic escalation in tensions between the two countries, which used to be allies before the Syrian revolt began in March 2011. Turkey has become one of the strongest critics of the Syrian regime`s brutal response to the country`s uprising.

Late yesterday, Syria`s state-run news agency, SANA, said the military spotted an "unidentified aerial target" that was flying at a low altitude and at a high speed.

"The Syrian anti-air defences counteracted with anti-aircraft artillery, hitting it directly," SANA said. "The target turned out to be a Turkish military plane that entered Syrian airspace and was dealt with according to laws observed in such cases."

Turkey issued a statement last night following a two-hour security meeting led by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying Syrian forces downed the plane and that the two Turkish pilots remain missing.
It said Turkey "will determinedly take necessary steps" in response, without saying what those actions would be.

"Following the evaluation of data provided by our related institutions and the findings of the joint search and rescue efforts with Syria, it is understood that our plane was downed by Syria," the statement said, without providing other details.

Relations between Turkey and Syria were already tense before the downing of the F4 plane yesterday.

Turkey`s military provided no details on the downed plane`s mission on Friday, but some Turkish TV reports said it was on a reconnaissance flight.

Syria claimed the jet violated its air space over territorial waters, penetrating about one kilometre, but that Syrian vessels joined the search for it, according to Turkey`s NTV television.

(With Agency inputs)