Turkey on Monday accused Syria of firing at one of its search and rescue aircraft while searching for a Turkish warplane shot down by Syrian forces last week, making the second such confrontation between the two nations in less than a week.
According to Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, Syrian forces opened fire on a Turkish Air Force search and rescue plane as it was attempting to find the wreckage of a F-4 Phantom fighter-jet shot down over the Mediterranean on Friday by Syrian air defenses.
Arinc said at a televised news conference on Monday that the CASA search and rescue plane was not brought down by Syrian gunners. He, however, did not disclose when the latest incident took place or whether the second plane was hit.
Nevertheless, Arinc said the Syrian military had stopped firing at the search and rescue aircraft after a warning was issued by the Turkish military. He also pledged that Syria's latest "hostile action" would "not go unpunished".
The Turkish deputy PM also stressed that his country will continue to defend itself from such hostile acts within the framework of international law, and added that Turkey had "no intention of going to war with anyone."
Search operations are still continuing to trace the two pilots missing after Friday's incident. Although Ankara insists that the incident took place in international air space, the Syrian government claims that the targeted aircraft had violated its air space.
Earlier on Monday, the European Union condemned the downing of the Turkish military aircraft by the Syrians. However, the European bloc urged Turkey to show restraint and ruled out support for any military retaliation by Ankara. The EU also slapped the Syrian regime with fresh sanctions over its continued repression of the opposition and pro-democracy activists.
Incidentally, Turkey is a NATO member awaiting entry into the European Union. Although Turkey has not demanded a military response from the western alliance over the incident, NATO ambassadors are due to meet at Ankara's request on June 26 for consultations.
Also, the Turkish Cabinet is due to discuss the crisis late on Monday, a day before NATO envoys in Brussels meet to consider their response. Turkey has invoked Article 4 of NATO's charter, under which consultations can be requested when an ally feels its security is threatened.
Although Turkey and Syria shared close ties until recently, relations between the former allies are currently at an all time low because of Turkey's strong criticism of Syrian regime's continued crackdown on protesters since the unrest began in March 2011.
Turkey has been providing refuge to Syrian dissidents fleeing the brutal security crackdown at home. Nevertheless, Damascus alleges that Syrian army deserters are using Turkey as a base for launching attacks on Syrian military installations.
Turkey has also openly supported the Opposition-backed Free Syria Army, an armed rebel group largely made up of army defectors. Ankara also claims that several high-ranking Syrian military officials as well as dozens of soldiers have defected to the country in recent weeks.
Turkey has been wary of military intervention in Syria, but has signaled recently that the large inflow of Syrian refugees, along with massacres and atrocities committed by Syrian government troops, could force it to act.
The UN estimates that more than 10,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad broke out 15 months ago. The Opposition claims that the actual death toll is much higher. The Assad government continues to blame "armed terrorist gangs" backed by Islamists and foreign mercenaries for the violence.
by RTT Staff Writer
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