Saturday, October 13, 2012

Turkey Forces Syrian Passenger Jet to Land, Claims Civilian Aircraft Was Carrying Military Equipment From Russia

Turkish authorities ordered a Syrian civilian airliner flying in Turkish airspace to land in Ankara this week. The Turks claimed they had recieved intelligence that the Damascus-bound airliner was carrying cargo that violated international sanctions against Bashr Al Assad regime. Not surprisingly, both Damascus and Moscow claim an entirely different series of events than what the Turks claim happened.
The civilian A320 plane, which was carrying 35 passengers, landed in Damascus early Thursday after Turkey allowed it to take off, but Turkish officials will continue to investigate the confiscated cargo, Mr. Erdogan added.

"These are equipment and ammunition sent to the Syrian Defense Ministry from the Russian [state-owned arms manufacturer]. At the moment, our authorities are continuing their investigation of these items and the further statements will be made as necessary," Mr. Erdogan said at a news conference in Ankara.

Asked to clarify precisely what the plane's cargo included, the prime minister's spokesman said that "it would be more accurate to refer to call it military equipment and not ammunition."

According to Syrian authorities, Turkish air-traffic control contacted the pilot at 5:20 local time and altered the GPS coordinates of the preset flight course. Turkish jets then appeared without warning to force the plane to land in Ankara, where the airliner sat for two hours before being searched.

Turkish authorities contested those charges, stressing that the Syrian plane was warned before it entered Turkish airspace that it would be forced to land, but the pilot opted not to change course.

Once grounded, the passengers' needs were catered for and that their safety was compromised are "baseless," the Turkish authorities said.
Although Turkish authorities declined to specify what exactly was among the cargo, a number of private and state-run media outlets throughout Turkey reported that the contraband included military-grade communications devices bound for al-Assad's army upon arrival in Damascus. Other sources had claimed the cargo possibly included missile components, but Russian officials denied any weapons or weapons components were on board.

Russia has provided Syria with arms since the Cold War, and until the mass uprisings against Bashr Al Assad's regime began in 2011 Turkey has enjoyed fairly cordial relations with both Syria and Russia. Since the uprisings began, Turkey has taken in a number of refugees from Syria and in recent weeks has traded artillery fire with forces loyal to Syrian president Bashr Al Assad after the Turkish border town of Akçakale was hit by mortar fire earlier this month, killing five Turkish civilians.

Shortly after the Syrian aircraft was forced to land at Ankara, Russian president Vladmir Putin announced that he was postponing a scheduled visit to Turkey.

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