Syrian forces knew the identity of a Turkish military jet before shooting it down over international airspace, according to Turkey’s ambassador to the United Nations.
“Radio communication among Syrian authorities clearly demonstrates that the Syrian units were fully aware of the circumstances and the fact that the aircraft belonged to Turkey,” Ertugrul Apakan, Turkey’s representative to the UN said in a letter to Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon obtained yesterday.
Syrian forces also shot at a Turkish rescue plane sent to look for the downed pilots, even after Turkey “established coordination with the Syrian authorities,” according to the letter.
Turkey’s latest allegations about last week’s events off the coast of Syria further raised tensions ahead of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting on the incident today in Brussels. Relations between the neighbors and former allies were already strained by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on anti-government protesters, which has left more than 10,000 people dead.
Syria has criticized Turkey for hosting meetings of Syrian opposition groups, while Turkey has called for a change of regime in its southern neighbor.
Turkey invoked articles four and five of the NATO treaty in seeking today’s meeting, Bulent Arinc, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, told reporters after a Cabinet meeting in Ankara yesterday. Article five requires members to recognize an attack on one as an attack on all and to assist the violated member in any action it deems necessary, including the use of armed force. The U.S. backed the Turkish account.
“There was no warning to this aircraft, it was just shot out of the sky,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday. “And that obviously is not in keeping with international norms in such incidents.”
Syria had earlier responded to Turkish accounts by giving its own version of events, emphasizing that the Turkish F-4 Phantom aircraft had entered Syrian airspace.
While the destruction of the Turkish F-4 was an “accident,” it was also a defensive act following a “clear violation of Syrian sovereignty,” Syria’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told journalists yesterday,
The jet was flying at 700 to 800 kilometers per hour (435 to 500 miles per hour) at a height of 100 meters, he said, meaning Syrian air defenses had to respond very quickly. The F-4 was flying over airspace that had previously been violated by Israeli aircraft, Makdissi said.
He said the plane was brought down by an anti-aircraft gun with a range of 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) and not with missiles.
“We do not have any hostile intentions against the Turkish people or the Turkish government,” Makdissi said at the press conference in Damascus, the Syrian capital. The two missing Turkish airmen haven’t been found, though aircraft wreckage has been discovered, Makdissi said.
The unarmed F-4 briefly entered Syrian airspace, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu acknowledged on June 24. Minutes later it was hit over international waters and plunged into the Mediterranean about 13 kilometers (8 miles) off the Syrian coast, he said. It was on a test flight related to Turkey’s radar system, and wasn’t spying on Syria, he said.
The plane was clearly identifiable as Turkish, and Syria made no attempt to issue a warning after the earlier infringement, Davutoglu said. Turkish rescue teams were still searching for the crew, he said.
On the same day the Turkish aircraft was destroyed, a Syrian MiG-21 pilot defected to Jordan in his aircraft.