Bodies of Turkish pilots found on seabed

 

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The bodies of two Turkish pilots shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft guns were recovered from the seabed yesterday, as President Bashar al-Assad launched an attack on the Turkish leader, accusing him of fuelling bloodshed by funding "terrorist" groups within his borders.

The Syrian President rounded on Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a tirade that is likely to further ramp up tension between the two countries. It came despite Mr Assad's earlier comments that he did not want a conflict with Turkey and regretted the shooting down of its F-4 jet.

"[Mr Erdogan] wanted the terrorists to have a free hand in Syria… He has failed on the Arab arena," Assad said in an interview with the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet published yesterday.

Tensions have been intensifying since the jet was shot down on 22 June after it strayed into Syrian airspace. The discovery of the pilots' bodies in the eastern Mediterranean by a US deep-sea exploration vessel may provide some clues as to whether it was shot down in Syrian territory, as Damascus claims.

Meanwhile, citing a diplomatic source, Russia's Kommersant newspaper reported that Western nations were pushing for Moscow to provide asylum for Mr Assad, but said that Russia has ruled out the possibility. A spokesman for the British Foreign Office described the report as "rubbish" and Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, denied that Mr Assad's future is being discussed with the US.

But Vladimir Sotnikov, a Moscow-based political analyst, said that Russia may be negotiating with a third country to provide asylum if options run out. "Belarus is one option, Iran or even Venezuela could be other possibilities," he said. "It's clear that Assad only has a matter of weeks or months left."

Russia has refused to call for Mr Assad to step down and Moscow insists that the plan agreed in Geneva at the weekend does not imply that he has no political future, as some Western leaders claim. It has said it will boycott tomorrow's "Friends of Syria" meeting in Paris.

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