Tensions rise between Turkey and Syria over forced landing of civilian plane

October 11, 2012 – TURKEY – Adding to strains with Turkey over the conflict in Syria, Russia demanded an explanation on Thursday after Turkish warplanes forced a Syrian passenger plane flying from Moscow to Damascus to land in Ankara on suspicion of carrying military cargo. The episode on Wednesday also marked a sharp escalation of Turkey’s confrontation with Syria as authorities in Ankara ordered Turkish civilian airplanes to avoid Syria’s airspace and warned of increasingly forceful responses if Syrian artillery gunners keep lobbing shells across the border. The forced landing exposed new fissures of dispute as the Russian Foreign Ministry demanded an explanation from Turkey, and other officials in Moscow denied that there were weapons or other military supplies on board the plane, which was carrying some Russian passengers. Moscow’s complaints brought a quick response from Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag, who was quoted by the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency as saying “materials that infringed international regulations” had been confiscated when Turkish officials searched the aircraft. Russia and Turkey are already at odds over the Syrian crisis with Ankara joining Western and many Arab nations in support of insurgents seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad while Moscow has consistently shielded Mr. Assad, its main regional ally. Russia is Syria’s main arms supplier. Russian authorities were “disturbed” that the Turkish side did not inform its embassy that Russian citizens were being held at the airport, and did not allow diplomats to speak to Russian passengers for an eight-hour period, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said in a written statement. The passengers were not allowed to wait in the airport building, though they were occasionally allowed to leave the aircraft for the runway, and were not given food, the statement said. An official from a Russian arms export company, moreover, told the Interfax news service that Russia has never suspended its military cooperation with Syria but would not ship arms supplies on a civilian passenger plane. “There were not and could not have been any weapons, or systems, or military hardware equipment on board the passenger plane,” the official said. “If it had been necessary to ship any military hardware or weapons to Syria, this would have been done through the established procedure rather than in an illegal way.” –NY Times
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