Tensions flare over plane forced down by Turkey

Syria and Moscow rail against Turkey for forcing down passenger jet and deny Ankara's claim that seized cargo might include arms for Assad

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 October, 2012, 3:24am

Tensions flared yesterday between Turkey and Syria as well as top Syrian ally Russia after Ankara forced a Syrian passenger plane from Moscow, reportedly carrying arms, to land in the Turkish capital.

Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the plane was carrying equipment and ammunition destined for the Syrian Defence Ministry. His comments followed a fierce denial by Syria that anything illegal had been aboard the Airbus A320 that was forced by Turkey to land in Ankara late Wednesday.

Syria, whose relations with neighbouring Turkey have plummeted over the Syrian war, branded it an act of piracy.

Earlier, Turkish officials had rejected claims by Syria's ally Russia that Turkey had endangered the lives of Russian citizens on board the aircraft.

"These were equipment and ammunitions that were being sent from a Russian agency ... to the Syrian Defence Ministry," Erdogan said. "Their examination is continuing and the necessary (action) will follow."

Yeni Safak, a newspaper close to the Turkish government, reported the cargo 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.

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

He said Turkey 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.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the pilot of the Syrian Air plane from Moscow had been warned of Turkey's intention to ground it as he approached. It said he was given the chance to turn back, but had continued his course.

Rejecting claims that passengers were ill-treated, the Turkish statement said they were allowed to leave the plane if they wanted and that there was a medical crew and ambulances on standby. It 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.

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

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