Russia denounces Turkish seizure of plane With 17 Russians
aboard

 

8208436

BEIRUT — Russia demanded an explanation from Turkey on Thursday for why it intercepted a Syrian passenger plane flying from Moscow to Damascus, the latest instance of spiraling Syrian-Turkish tensions related to Syria's bloody civil war.

Turkey said it used F-16 fighter jets to force the Syrian Airbus to land at Esenboga Airport in Ankara in order to seize equipment that it believes was destined for use by the Syrian military against the armed, anti-government rebels. Thirty passengers were on board the plane, including 17 Russians.

The plane contained "equipment and ammunition that were being sent from a Russian agency . . . to the Syrian Defense Ministry," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan later told reporters in Ankara, the Associated Press reported. Erdogan said Turkish authorities were examining the equipment and that necessary steps "will follow."

He described the cargo as "munitions from the Russian equivalent of our Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation," a reference to a state-run Turkish manufacturer that supplies the country's army, Reuters news agency reported.

After several hours on the ground, the plane was allowed to fly to Damascus without the cargo, AP said.

In Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement: "Russia insists that the Turkish authorities must explain their conduct regarding Russian citizens and prevent similar incidents in the future."

Turkey's action against the plane amounted to "air piracy," Syrian Transport Minister Mahmoud Said told state-controlled television news, according to Reuters news agency. His comments exacerbated the already tense back-and-forth between Turkey and Syria following a Syrian mortar strike that killed five civilians in a Turkish border village last week.

The Airbus 320 was intercepted as it entered Turkish airspace shortly after 5 p.m. local time Wednesday (10 a.m. in Washington). Hours earlier, Turkey had ordered all Turkish civilian aircraft to cease flights through Syrian airspace, apparently to prevent Syria from taking reciprocal action.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Turkish television network TGRT that the plane had been forced down because it was carrying "non-civilian cargo" and "banned material."

"There is information that the plane had cargo on board that does not meet the requirements of civil aviation," Davutoglu said. The Today's Zaman newspaper later reported that Turkish authorities found military communication equipment and "parts that could be used in missiles" on the plane.

Russia denied that any military hardware or weapons were on board.

In Brussels, meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told reporters the United States has dispatched a small force of 150 troops to Jordan, to help the authorities there formulate contingency plans for dealing with the ongoing violence in neighboring Syria.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said Turkey never informed the Russian Embassy that some passengers aboard the seized plane were Russian citizens. After watching news reports about the incident, the embassy sent consulate workers and a doctor to the airport and demanded access to the Russians, Lukashevich said.

"Turkish authorities denied without explanations and in violation of the bilateral consular convention a meeting of the diplomats with the Russian citizens, who had been barred from the airport terminal for eight hours but sporadically allowed to stand on the tarmac," Lukashevich said."No food was supplied either."

The Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed official with a "Russian weapons export organization" as saying that there were no weapons or military hardware on board the plane. The official pointed out that Russia has not suspended military-technological cooperation with Syria and therefore could send weapons to Damascus through official channels, rather than trying to smuggle such material on a civilian plane.

"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, not to mention using a civilian aircraft," the official said, according to Interfax.

Russia, one of Syria's staunchest allies, has in the past acknowledged supplying the government in Damascus with weapons and has blocked several efforts at the United Nations to impose an arms embargo.

Ankara and Damascus, long at odds over the bloody revolution in Syria, lurched closer to war a week ago after several Syrian shells exploded in a Turkish border village, killing five civilians and prompting Turkey to retaliate with barrages of mortar fire against Syrian targets.

Syria refused to apologize and instead denounced Turkey for allowing rebels battling the regime led by President Bashar al-Assad to transport weapons and funds across its border. Although mortar rounds fired during battles had strayed into Turkey on several previous occasions, Turkish officials said the incident last week was different because five shells struck a residential area almost simultaneously.

Over the next five days, at least five more Syrian shells exploded in Turkey, increasing suspicions that Syria was deliberately needling its neighbor in an effort to undermine the Turkish prime minister. Turkey reciprocated by firing mortar shells into Syria on each occasion, and it has reinforced its southern border with extra troops, artillery and fighter planes.

Earlier Wednesday, Turkey's top general warned of harsher retaliation if more Syrian mortar shells land in Turkish territory.

"We responded, but if it continues, we will respond with greater force," Chief of General Staff Necdet Ozel told Turkish media during a visit to the southern town of Akcakale, where the five civilians were killed.

The dispatch of the U.S. troops to Jordan, reported by the New York Times on Wednesday, marks the first American military deployment directly associated with the nearly 19-month-old Syria crisis, which has swamped neighboring states with refugees and risks igniting a regional conflict. The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group, said 173 people were killed in Syria on Wednesday.

Most of the 150 U.S. troops are Army special operations forces, and some have been in Jordan for several months, Panetta said. They are helping Jordan monitor Syrian chemical and biological weapons sites and develop its own military capabilities "so that we can deal with all of the possible consequences" of the Syria war, he said.

Washington Post staff writer Will Englund in Moscow contributed to this report.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum