Nato showdown as Turkey accuses Syria of downing jet in international airspace


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The Independent Online

Turkey has called an extraordinary meeting of the Nato military alliance to discuss its response to the downing of one of its warplanes by Syria.

Ankara summoned its allies after giving its first detailed account of the jet's movements before it was shot down by Syria on Friday. A foreign ministry official said the search for the two crew continued and it knew the co-ordinates of the wreckage, but had not yet found the downed plane.

Earlier, Turkey said the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom was unarmed and was shot down in international airspace. Although it did "momentarily" and mistakenly violate Syrian territory, the Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said it was not fired upon until 15 minutes later, by which time it was some 13 nautical miles from Syrian territory and back in international airspace.

Syria made "no attempt to contact Turkish authorities by any means" during the operation, Mr Davutoglu told state television, insisting that the plane was "not hiding its identity and could be seen by all".

Mr Davutoglu also disputed Syria's claim that it did not know the jet was Turkish. He said the aircraft had no connection to the crisis in Syria, where the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is facing an increasingly bloody uprising, and was on a training mission to test Turkey's domestic radar system.

Shortly after Mr Davutoglu's comments, Turkey lodged an official protest with Syria and called a Nato meeting to discuss its response. The alliance will meet tomorrow after Ankara invoked Article 4 of its charter. The provision allows member states to "consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened".

Soli Ozel, a Turkish foreign affairs expert, said: "[The Turkish] government has no real unilateral option vis-à-vis Syria. Therefore it will go to Nato and whatever will be done will be done with Nato. I think the public will accept it."

The British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, also weighed in yesterday, condemning Syria. "When I spoke to Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu on 23 June, he told me that the plane had been shot down without warning," he said. "This outrageous act underlines how far beyond accepted behaviour Syria has put itself and I condemn it wholeheartedly.... The Assad regime should not make the mistake of believing that it can act with impunity. It will be held to account for its behaviour."

Turkey has also been in contact with other members of the international community over the incident, including Syria's benefactors Iran and Russia. Turkey also said it would notify the UN Security Council, "in light of the information we have regarding the background to this aggressive attitude".