Turkey-Syria tensions simmer over downing
ANKARA, Turkey -- Syria said yesterday it shot down a Turkish reconnaissance plane because it had entered its airspace, insisting it was "not an attack" as both sides desperately tried to de-escalate the episode before it exploded into a regional conflagration.
Turkey threatened to retaliate but did not say how as it searched for the aircraft's two missing pilots.
The downed plane heightened tensions between two neighboring countries that had been allies before Syria's 15-month violent uprising. Germany and Iraq were among the countries urging restraint in the region.
Syria and Turkey had cultivated close ties before the Syrian revolt began in March 2011, but since then Turkey has become one of the strongest critics of Syria's regime. Turkey hosts civilian and military Syrian opposition groups, including hundreds of army defectors who are affiliated with the Free Syrian Army and collect food and other supplies to deliver to comrades on smuggling routes.
Turkish authorities also suspect Damascus, which was collaborating with Turkey in its fight against autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels, is now turning a blind eye to Syria-based Kurdish fighters who belong to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. The group is considered a terrorist organization in the U.S. and Europe.
The Turkish jet, an unarmed F-4, went down in the Mediterranean Sea about eight miles from the Syrian town of Latakia, Turkey said. Syria claimed the jet violated its air space over territorial waters by about about half a mile. It said Syrian forces realized it was a Turkish jet only after firing at it.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul conceded the plane may have unintentionally crossed into Syrian airspace, but said it was "routine" for jets to unintentionally cross borders for short periods. The government has not described the plane's specific mission.
Turkey has joined the United States and other nations in saying that Syrian President Bashar Assad should step down because of the uprising in his country that has killed thousands of people.