Turks to do 'whatever is needed' to avenge Syrian fighter strike

Pressure is building for a strong reaction, but UN urges Damascus and Ankara to show restraint

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The Independent Online

A military strike against Syria, in revenge for the shooting down of a Turkish fighter jet on Friday, has not been ruled out, President Abdullah Gul of Turkey signalled yesterday, saying: "No one should have any doubt that whatever [action] is necessary will be taken."

The President made his comment as his Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, chaired a meeting with senior military officers.

Hinting that military action remains an option, Faruk Celik, Turkey's Labour and Social Security Minister, said action would be taken "either in the diplomatic field or give other types of response". Responding to Syria's claims that the F-4 jet, which was shot down over the Mediterranean about 13km from the Syrian port of Latakia, had violated its airspace, he added: "The Syrian response cannot be to bring down the plane. The incident is unacceptable. Turkey cannot endure it in silence."

Turkey's Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, called a second security meeting in the space of 24 hours as pressure built for some form of retaliation.

Amid mounting concerns that Turkey's desire for revenge could send the conflict spiralling out of control, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on both sides to exercise restraint and handle it "through diplomatic channels".

In an attempt to calm tensions, a Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman insisted that "there was no enmity against Turkey" during an interview with Turkey's state television news yesterday. He said that Syria did not realise it was a Turkish jet and that Syria had exercised its "sovereign right" against an "unknown" aircraft.

Relations between the former allies have deteriorated since the uprising against the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, began in March 2011, with Turkey leading criticism of President Assad's response to the revolt.

Turkey is still trying to establish the exact circumstances of the incident and has yet to receive a formal explanation from Syria. The F-4, which Turkey claims was an unarmed reconnaissance plane, was shot down one kilometre inside Syria's territorial waters. President Gul commented that it was "routine" for jets flying in high-speeds to violate other countries' air spaces for short periods of time. "They are incidents that are not ill-intentioned and happen because of the speeds [of the jets]," he said.

The shooting down of the jet represents a "serious escalation" of the Syrian conflict that could spread into a regional crisis, Iraq's Foreign Minister, Hoshiyar Zebari, warned.

On Saturday, the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet accused Syria of "playing with fire", while the daily paper Vatan said Syria would "pay the price" for the attack.

But other voices are calling for calm. Urging restraint, Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, said: "We must remain calm and collected." He added: "We must not give premium to any provocative speeches and acts."

And Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey's main opposition party, called for diplomatic channels to be kept open and a "coolheaded assessment".