Search for pilots was fired on, says Ankara


ANKARA/BEIRUT – Turkey said yesterday that Syrian forces had fired towards a Turkish military transport plane involved in a search for an F4 reconnaissance jet shot down by Syria last week, but the second aircraft was not brought down.

Damascus described its shooting down of the F4 jet on Friday as an act of self-defence and warned Ankara and its Nato allies against any retaliation.

Turkey said the incident would “not go unpunished” but it did not intend to go to war over it.

The disclosure of the second incident came on the eve of a Nato crisis meeting that Turkey summoned to address the shooting down of its F4 jet, which Ankara has described as an unprovoked attack in international airspace.

In shell-shattered districts of Homs, the heart of a 16-month-old revolt against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, rebels fought troops as aid workers tried to evacuate civilians.

Turkish television reported the desertion of a Syrian general and other officers across the border.

Deputy prime minister Bülent Arinç told a news conference that Turkey would protect itself within the framework of international law against what it called Syria’s “hostile action” of downing its F4 warplane last week.

Mr Arinç said at the end of a seven-hour cabinet meeting dealing with the incident: “Everyone should know that this kind of action will not remain unpunished.”

But he added, “Whatever is needed to be done will definitely be done within the framework of international law.

“We have no intention of going to war with anyone. We have no such intent.”

Mr Arinç said that shortly after the F4 was shot down, four helicopters and two vessels were dispatched on an initial search operation, followed by a military turboprop transport aircraft.

“Our plane, which had gone to rescue , was fired upon. This situation was brought to an end following a warning from our foreign ministry.

“But yes, there was a short period of harassing fire,” said Mr Arinç. – (Reuters)