Turkey Finds Bodies Of Pilots Shot Down By Syria

by
staff
Turkey on Wednesday found the bodies of two pilots shot down by Syria last month during a contested flight that pushed the neighbors' relations to a new low almost a year after Ankara threw its weight behind the opposition to oust President Bashar al-Assad from power.

ISTANBUL—Turkey on Wednesday found the bodies of two pilots shot down by Syria last month during a contested flight that pushed the neighbors' relations to a new low almost a year after Ankara threw its weight behind the opposition to oust President Bashar al-Assad from power.

The military General Staff in Ankara said on Wednesday that it was working to remove the bodies of Captain Gokhan Ertan and Lieutenant Hasan Hüseyin Aksoy from the Mediterranean. Turkey didn't identify the location of the dead pilots or provide any additional details. The armed forces weren't immediately able to provide comment.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a short statement on his website offering condolences but offered no further comment.

The June 22 downing of Turkey's RF4 surveillance jet dramatically raised tensions along Turkey's 565-mile border with Syria, and led the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, following a presentation on Tuesday by Turkey, to condemn Syria's action. Turkey's military last week deployed armored units along the frontier, after Mr. Erdogan promised "decisive steps" as a response.

Those tensions were illustrated on Monday as Turkey scrambled six Turkish F-16 jets from Incirlik air base in southern Turkey for the third consecutive day in response to Syrian helicopters flying close to the border.

Turkey's military said that on Monday that four Turkish F-16 jets from air bases in Incirlik and two from Batman in eastern Turkey had scrambled in three separate incidents in response to three Syrian helicopters flying south of the Turkish province of Hatay on Tuesday.

Attention will now be focused on whether the recovery of the pilots' bodies offers more clues on where and how the Turkish jet was downed.

Mr. Assad says Syrian forces hit the plane over territorial waters with antiaircraft gunfire. Turkey says it was hit in international airspace, 1.6 kilometers (about a mile) outside Syrian waters.

The military statement didn't include details about the remnants of the jet, which have yet to be found.

Turkish government officials on Wednesday didn't immediately make statements following the General Staff statement announcing the deaths.

Both pilots' fathers told Turkish television networks last week that Turkey should not go to war over the death of their sons. Government officials and opposition parties alike have called for calm over the downing of the unarmed plane.

In an exclusive interview with Turkey's Cumhuriyet newspaper published on Tuesday, Mr. Assad suggested that Syrian forces had mistaken the Turkish plane for an Israeli jet, stressing that it was flying in an air corridor used three times in the past by the Israeli air force. Mr. Assad added that he regretted the incident "100%," in an interview that appeared to strike a contrite tone but remain defiant against Ankara. "I wish it hadn't happened," Mr. Assad said.