Turkish warplanes shoot down Syrian jet after it crosses into Turkey airspace

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 4:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 4:48am

Turkish warplanes shot down a Syrian jet yesterday after it crossed into Turkey's airspace, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

"A Syrian plane violated our airspace," Erdogan said during an election rally in Kocaeli province, east of Istanbul. "Turkish F-16s took off and shot it down."

Turkish media reported that the military told two Syrian jets approaching the border that they should turn away and that F-16 jets were scrambled when one of the planes ignored the warning.

The incident raised tensions as Syrian loyalists and rebels battle to control a frontier crossing.

Our slap will be heavier if you violate my airspace again
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish Prime Minister

A Syrian source said that Turkey shot down the warplane "in a flagrant act of aggression that is evidence of Erdogan's support for terrorist groups".

The jet crashed in the Turkish border town of Yayladagi, state-run TRT television said.

The jet's pilot survived, Syrian state television said in a report which criticised Turkey's support for rebels seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Since Syrian forces shot down a Turkish reconnaissance plane in the eastern Mediterranean in June 2012, killing two pilots, Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to attack any Syrian forces violating their shared border. Turkish jets shot down a Syrian helicopter in September also for violating its airspace.

"I congratulate the chief of general staff, the armed forces and those honourable pilots … I congratulate our air forces," Erdogan said.

"Our slap will be heavier if you violate my airspace again," he added.

Friction between Turkey and Syria has also intensified in recent days over a tomb in Syria belonging to an ancestor of the founder of the Ottoman Empire. In the Netherlands, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said that Turkey would defend the burial site of Suleyman Shah against any attack.

Syrian troops and rebels have been locked in deadly fighting since Friday for control of Kasab in the northern province of Latakia, a regime stronghold.

The battle erupted after three jihadist groups, including al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate, al-Nusra Front, announced an offensive on Tuesday in Latakia, dubbed Anfal, or "spoils of war".

Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg